Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Having a couple of problems with Blogger at the moment:

- several sites hosted by Blogger are shutting themselves down within a few seconds of me arriving on them. That makes it very tricky to read what Bishop Alan or Garibaldi McFlurry have to say, as there's only 5 seconds to scan them before the error message comes up. It seems to happen more often when following a link through from another site, rather than typing the address straight in. Of course it could be a problem with Internet Explorer, but it's only happening on Blogger sites. Anyone else get this?

- following the good bishops example, I tried to put Tweetmeme onto the blog to allow folk to retweet the posts. I followed the instructions to the letter, but until yesterday you'd have noticed a complete absence of a retweet button here: it only appeared for the brave souls who clicked 'Comments', and then only when comments are put below the post, rather than in a popup window.

But deep joy and gladness, the Greentech blog had the answer. I'm probably the last person on the planet to discover this. Just hope my blog doesn't start crashing now. If it does, please let me know!

Vaughan Retires

Virtually my only claim to fame is that I went to the same school as Michael Vaughan, and I think for a while we overlapped at the same club (Sheffield Collegiate). Vaughan this morning confirmed his retirement from all forms of professional cricket.

Not surprisingly, tributes have been pouring in from current and former England players and coaches. As an average cricket fan, that 2005 Ashes victory will always be a thrilling memory, and the image of Vaughan despatching Glenn McGrath off the front and back foot in his 633-run feast in Australia a couple of years before is one to swell an Englishmans heart.

Sadly Vaughan has lost his battle with injury, an all-too-frequent story in modern day cricket. Of the current squad, Flintoff, Pietersen and Sidebottom are all recovering from recent injuries, and the mental and physical toll of top level cricket has take out the likes of Simon Jones and Marcus Trescothick for good, to which list we can now add Vaughan.

Thankyou to an England captain who gave us hours of pleasure, and that summer of triumph. I hope that Yorkshire and England give him the send-off he deserves.

Green Christianity?

Upcoming event: "A biblical view of environmental issues"
Thursday 2nd July at 7:30 p.m in St. Johns church Yeovil.

The speaker is Professor Bob White FRS, a Cambridge Professor of Geophysics, and joint author of 'Christianity, Climate Change and sustainable living.' He's also associate director of the Faraday Institute, whose new site on science and faith I linked a couple of days ago.

the event is hosted by the Bath and Wells Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, where there are a few more details. Should be well worth getting to.

Monday, June 29, 2009

National Secular Society accepts key argument against Euthanasia

Ht to Nick Baines for spotting this National Secular Society comment on spiritual care in hospital:

We have to be very careful about how we tread on this issue. If we say it is ok for doctors and nurses to provide spiritual care and pray for patients it can all too quickly get out of hand and we will have staff preaching on the wards. The risk is that it makes patients feel uncomfortable. They may feel compelled to say ‘yes’ thinking their care will suffer.

So there you have it. The NSS accepts that patients may feel pressurised to do something they don't want to do. Which is one of the key arguments against assisted suicide, being debated in the Lords this week. Strangely, the NSS are campaigning in favour of it. I continue to be amazed that an organisation with such a track record in flawed reasoning and misrepresentation is taken seriously by either the media or the government.

One comment on Nick's blog mentions a patient who apologised to her doctor for being a Christian, in case the doctor was offended. Who exactly is being made to feel uncomfortable for what here?

Jon Ronson on Alpha

I linked to this interview in the post below, but large chunks of it merit reposting. I'll confine myself to this:

You seemed to like the people you featured in the film, both those doing the course and those running it. Would that be accurate?
Yeah, I do and I did. And that goes all the way to Nicky Gumbel. However, from a sceptical agnostic point of view, I think that the sort of Evangelical zeal where turning the agnostics to God is the all-important thing, and matters more than anything else, I don’t personally like. So I don’t really like the Evangelical zeal of Alpha. But, then again, they would say that that’s what they believe, that if you don’t find God you don’t get salvation, and it’s crucial. So I see that as a fault, but they don’t. But I wanted to make a film that didn’t focus too much on the negatives. I wanted to make a film that was enquiring and gentle and human. I saw it as a film about people.

The Alpha Course, and therefore the film itself, both take a major, dramatic turn on the weekend away. It comes a little bit out of the blue.
Yeah, that was deliberate on my part. I was worried that, in order to sell the film to the audience, we’d need to put something about that at the top of the film, and I was so glad when it turned out that we didn’t have to. I did it that way because that’s the structure of Alpha – they underplay the weekend away in the first few weeks of the course. So people on the course don’t really know what to expect when they turn up for the weekend. I didn’t want the viewers to know any more than the agnostics we’re following would know.

When the moment arrives where people are asked to speak in tongues, it’s a very polarising experience, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. And exactly the same thing happened last time I did Alpha. Some people stormed out in disgust, and said “I thought these people were nice, with their biscuits. I didn’t realise they were like some sort of weird cult.” Which I don’t think they are, because a cult is something much more restrictive. If you leave Alpha, no-one’s going to try and press gang you into coming back. But then, for other people, the speaking in tongues is ‘the moment’ – it unlocks something in their hearts. So it’s incredibly polarising, and that’s fascinating. Especially because the rest of Alpha is so un-polarising.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Channel 4 Alpha Documentary

Watched Jon Ronsons documentary on an Alpha group in Oxford earlier this evening. Lots of twittering going on during and after, quite a lot of it negative. A few thoughts:

- fair play to Alpha, who are usually seen as quite tight and controlling on their publicity, for giving Channel 4 of all people access to a course. And to the people involved - I'm not sure I'd have been too keen on talking about God with a camera stuffed up my nose.

- It gave a reasonable impression of the course, but then zeroed in (as Alpha does, to be fair) on speaking in tongues, with some wacky footage of the Toronto Vineyard during the 'Toronto Blessing', and Charlie Cleverley (leader of St. Aldates, Oxford) trying to encourage folk to speak in tongues as raucous sports cars zoomed past the window of the hotel.

- The documentary didn't follow the full course, stopping at the 'Holy Spirit weekend', which normally happens just over halfway through. Ronson made an interesting point: he was impressed that Alpha did something as potentially controversial as covering speaking in tongues (most of its alternatives don't). One participant pointed out that if he'd known that was involved at the beginning, he'd not have done the course.

- I was quite uncomfortable watching the part where the Holy Spirit was invited to come, and folk were encouraged to speak in tongues. Partly because I felt the presence of the camera probably inhibited people, but also because there are some things Christians do that aren't supposed to be done in front of a camera. Jesus tells people to pray behind a closed door, and Paul tells the Corinthian church that if they all pray in tongues in worship, newcomers will conclude they are bonkers (cue Dizzee Rascal). I guess a documentary needs to show people what happens on the course, but watching it I felt so uncomfortable at that point that I had to physically restrain myself from switching channels for a couple of minutes.

- the overwhelming impression of the Christians was that they were 'nice people', folk seemed to enjoy the human interaction. It would be interesting to catch up with the participants after a few weeks, rather than in the heat of the moment having walked out of a communion service. I guess the documentary has to play up the drama - whether of conflict or conversion - when the real story may have been a bit more gradual.

Final thought: is it just me, or do other people watch documentaries on Christianity with half a feeling that the documentary makers are giggling behind their hands? I'm quite sure Ronson isn't - from the comments he made during the documentary, and his own reports of doing the Alpha course himself a few years ago - but maybe it's just me.

Update: if you missed it and can't spare an hour to watch it on catchup, Rachel has a blow by blow account of the programme with her own reflections.

Other thoughts from the blogosphere:
Ceridwens cauldron thought it was indoctrination of the gullible
Zoomtard seems to have had the same reaction as me: ok until the Toronto bit.
Simple Pleasures has an interview with Jon Ronson about the programme, which is a fascinating read, and blows away any suspicions you might have about why he did it.
Interesting view from chameleon102, whose vicar is trying to sign him up to an Alpha course.
Missiome also not sure about the way the programme covered speaking in tongues etc., but thought it 'well worth watching'.

Does bad Theology empty the Church?

Found this 2 minute snippet very thought-provoking. What do you think?

From Man of Depravity, who argues from this that we need to be a church which takes human sin and confession more seriously. Ht Tyler Braun on twitter.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

'Test of Faith' - new science and faith resource.

Test of Faith is a new site on science and faith, linked to an upcoming film and book. It's been put together by the Faraday Institute for Science and religion, and promises a release of materials on July 3rd.

The site says:
There is a huge need for accessible materials on science and Christianity for churches, and others who are interested in these issues. With the Faraday Institute starting up at the beginning of 2006, this was the ideal opportunity to fill the gap.

It already has an excellent links section, and promises of short articles, film clips, materials for use in church, interviews with scientists etc. Youtube section here with the above clip, plus other materials. Looks very promising.

Ht Evangelism UK.

Blessing in (heavy) Disguise

Thought provoking post by Michael Hyatt 'Does God Send Negative People Into our Lives?'

a snippet:
It’s easy to resent negative people. But what if God has a deep and important purpose for sending them—something that He intends for our good because He truly loves us.

Question: What possibility is present when you encounter negative or difficult people that is not present at other times?

The comments on the post are well worth a read too.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Alpha Documentary

Channel 4 have a new series, 'Revelations', starting Sunday night at 7pm. The first one follows a group through the Alpha course.

Blurb "A brand new strand of eight films explores the impact religion has on the lives of believers and non-believers in Britain today" Jon Ronson is heading up the Alpha programme (following a course at St. Aldates, Oxford), there don't seem to be details of the other episodes yet.

i can haz lite

Possibly one of the most bizarre Bible translation projects ever, there is a site devoted to translating the Bible into 'LOLCat' (no, I didn't know what it was either), a slang form popularised by this site. Somehow they have managed the whole Bible, which is either a labour of love of the work of someone two tweets short of a networking site.

I'm sure you'll work this one out:

1 iff i talkd wif teh tungz of manz n angylz, n duzzn haz luff, i are becom liek teh human, knockin down all teh potz n panz frm teh shelf, srsly.2 iff i haz powarz of liek tellin the futurez an if i has access to teh internets, an i gotz all teh missteriez an all teh knowingz an all teh faithz, enuff 2 taek all teh mowntanz awayz, an i duzzn haz luff, i gotz nuffink.3 an evn iff i givez all mai stuffz awai, n iff i delivur mai bodiz to b burnded up, and i duzzn haz luff, i gotz nuffink.

4 Luv is pashient n kind, luv haz no jelusniss or showin offz, luv no is stuck-up5 or r00dz. Luv no insistzes on doin it 4 itzelf, itz not pisst off alla tiem or rezentflufflele.6 Luv izzn all happiez about doin it wrong, but is happiez about teh truthz.7 Luv putz up wiht all teh stuffz, beelivez all teh stuffz, hoepz for all teh stuffz. Luv putz up wiht all teh stuffz... i sed that areddy?

8 Luv no haz endingz. Tellin the futurez, tungz, an alla stuffz u know wil die.9 We haz knowingz a bit, an we haz profacy a bit. We no haz two much tho.10 O, wait. Win teh perfict coemz, teh not perfict will dyez, lolol.11 Wen i wuz a kitten, i meweded leik a kitten, thinkded liek a kittenz, an I chazed strings liek a kittenz. Wen i wuz becomez a cat, i NO WANT kitten waiz ne moar.12 For nao we see in teh foggy mirorr like when teh human gets out of teh shower, but tehn we see faec tow faec. Nao i haz knowingz just a bit, tehn i will haz all teh knowingz, as i haz been knownz.

13 Nao faithz an hoepz an luvz r hear, theses threes, but teh bestest iz teh luv. srsly.

this is more tricky:
Teh Cheezburgerz and teh meme
13 u r teh cheezburgerz. if cheezburgerz haz no cheez, taste bad. trashcat can has it.
14 u r teh meme of teh internet. lolcat pic online iz not invizible.
15 emos dont frendslock lj posts. tehy post public 4 all teh internetz.
16 u 2 post lolcat pic online so internetz is liek "OMG! ur so k00l! Ceiling Cat rockz!"

any guesses?

thanks (if that's the right word) to Matt Wardman for tweeting this.

Update: Eddie Arthur posts a helpful reminder that, for all the fun we can have (?) over the Lolcat bible, there are still over 2000 languages which don't have their own Bible translation.

Through the gates?

U2 'The Playboy Mansion' from 'Pop' (written about 15 years ago, just after Michael Jacksons 'History' album came out)

If Coke is a mystery,
Michael Jackson History
If beauty is truth,
and surgery the fountain of youth
What am I to do?
Have I got the gift to get me through
The gates of that Mansion

If OJ is more than a drink,
a Big Mac bigger than you think
If perfume is an Obsession,
then talk shows confession
What have we got to lose?
I'll never push my way through
The gates of that mansion

Don't know if I can hold on
Don't know if I'm that strong
Don't know if I can wait that long
Til the colors come flashing and the lights go on
Then will there be no time for sorrow
Then will there be no time for shame
And though I can't say why I know I've got to believe
We'll go diving in that pool
It's who you know that gets you through
The gates in the Playboy Mansion

The Playboy Mansion
In the Playboy Mansion
Then will there be no time for sorrow?
Then will there be no time for shame?

no doubt much will be written, and much of it will be speculative. God alone knows the truth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Teenagers 'contribute £300m to economy' through voluntary work

A new report out from the Evangelical Alliance, reported here on the Beeb, is a useful corrective to the stereotypes many folk have of teenagers. It reports that nearly half do voluntary work at least once a month, and the vast majority give regularly to charity.

The report has an intro from Prince Charles, and is based on (yet another!!) survey, this time of 700 14-18's, also notes that faith is a significant motivating factor in people offering time as volunteers. Though 40% of young people volunteer regularly, this figure rises sharply with those who are more committed in their faith. The report notes that it could be because being part of a church offers young people more opportunities to volunteer, as well as being motivated to do so by their faith in the first place.

The top three reasons for volunteering were 'contribute to society', 'like helping people' and 'looks good on CV' (!)

The report also finds that among teenagers 50% buy fair trade where available, and 85% try to reduce their carbon footprint.

It would be great to hear this story about our young people more often, alongside the ones we more regularly hear about crime, violence, sex and consumerism.

Full report here
EA statement and links here.

Visuals for Worship

Jonny Baker notes the new RUN Video site, which has a good collection of downloadable vids for use in worship, and a free one each month as a carrot.

Other vid sources we've used in church, mainly in our cafe service:
  • Proost, including Si Smiths brilliant work.
  • Story Keepers (forget the SK stories themselves, unless you're running a holiday club, and just use the retelling of the Bible stories within them - normally 3 per episode)
  • Nooma - bit too laid back for all-age worship setting. I know of one vicar who uses the 'Rain' one in baptism preparation. Still not quite sure of the best way to use these.
  • Simpsons - the most famous churchgoing family on telly, loads of issues raised either by complete episodes (e.g. Homer vs Lisa & the 8th Commandment, Homer the Heretic) or by short clips
  • this King of the Hill clip on church-hopping. Brilliant.
  • WingClips - clips from top movies, helpfully indexed by theme, and downloadable for free in decent quality, and in high-def for a small fee.
  • ReelWorship: a photo & visuals site with some lovely video loops, great to use for meditations and backdrops.
  • If you're loaded, or have a dedicated budget for visuals, US sites Faith Visuals and Sermonspice are worth a visit, the latter is home of the Linebacker.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Mission on the Church of Englands Agenda? Part 2

After the near-death experience that was reading the agenda for General Synod, I then read this, posted yesterday by Richard Frank, a vicar in London:
Spent today in rather remarkable company - most of the London Bishops,
Archdeacons and Diocesan figures, together with a veritable who's-who of London
anglican church leaders of all sorts of stripes, but one thing in common - a
commitment to church-planting as a key part of a London-wide strategy for
evangelism and growth.

People talk often of the death of the CofE, but someone hasn't told
this bunch - the leaders of HTB, St Helen's Bishopsgate and All Souls, Langham
Place, together with many others have been speaking with passion and belief
about reaching London...

The conviction at the heart of the meeting is that the Diocese wants to
be a "can do" and permission-giving organisation, rather than one that puts
barriers in the way - that's not always been the way it's been seen (nor,
perhaps, acted), but I do believe that's the intent and it's exciting to

Fantastic. Please could other dioceses take note. As far as I know Bristol is the only Diocese with a church planting policy, and now it looks like they have company. Great. Who's next?

Baptism Preparation: What to Do?

Baptism evening last night - we have one a month where we explain to families who are interested what baptism is about, how it works, and start sorting out dates with them. After 11 years I'm still tinkering with the formula. Here's what we currently do:

- if a family contacts the church, we encourage them to come on a Sunday morning to speak to one of the clergy. Families which want to bypass the church and just have the christening tend to get weeded out at this stage! However, with Sunday working, there are some parents who have to book time off work simply to come to church at all.

- after the Sunday morning meeting, we invite them to the baptism evening (see above). At present we use 'First Steps' from CPAS, a 10 minute vid/DVD which explains 'what baptism is really all about' (a phrase it uses about 10 times!!) It's ok, but as far as I can see it's the only video-based resource on the market. It's also rarely enough to get people talking and asking questions, so I've stared using The Christ We Share, a pack of pictures of Jesus from different cultures, and asking folk to pick the picture of Jesus they relate to most and talk about it. We also use the CofE glossy leaflets on baptism and godparents.

- follow up visit at home to talk through the baptism service, explain a bit more of the Christian faith, and explore where the parents are coming from.

- baptism itself (normally separate from our main service. Partly logistics - we can't get more than 90 into our church and it's full most weeks. Partly practical - with 40+ baptisms a year it's hard to give the church proper teaching and worship if you're constantly thinking about a big group of guests who don't really want to sit through most of what's happening!)

- welcome into the church family, at a main Sunday service following the baptism, including giving godparents cards, and a carved cross made by someone in the church.

- all this against a backdrop of a couple of midweek groups for parents and children, and a creche facility at each Sunday service.

1. Even within Anglicanism, there's a wide spectrum of views about baptism. Some churches won't do it unless they see real Christian commitment on the part of the parents. There are a whole cluster of theological and mission issues clustered here which I can't even begin to unpack in anything short of a book (or maybe I just don't want to).

2. How to engage with people. I'm frustrated at the lack of media resources available, and it's hard to steer a course between cramming people with theology and trying to connect with their own sense of God and where they are in terms of faith.

3. How to help people make progress - we regularly offer Alpha, and have just started using Emmaus for our confirmation course, which has picked up 2 parents who came into the church through baptism. A large number of others come monthly to our cafe service, but don't get much further into the pool than that.

I'd love to know what other people do, what works, what you struggle with, and any good resources that you've found.......

update: when it comes to the baptism itself, this is surely the best way. Ht 2churchmice

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'Killing God', Youth and Faith

There must be a word for surveys which are commissioned to provide headlines for a newly launched product. The latest one is a survey of 1000 teenagers attitudes to faith, commissioned by Penguin, for the launch (tomorrow) of a new book for teenagers, subtly titled 'Killing God'.

Church Mouse and A Better Hope have commented on the findings, which include:
  • 66 per cent of teens do not believe a deity exists
  • 50 per cent have never prayed
  • 16 per cent have never been to church.
  • Teenagers rated family, friends, money, music and even reality TV shows above faith.
  • 59 per cent of children believed religion has had a negative influence on the world
  • 60 per cent only go to church for a wedding or christening
  • Only 30 per cent of teenagers think there is an afterlife…
  • … while 10 per cent believe in reincarnation
  • 47 per cent said organised religion had no place in the world
  • 60 per cent don’t believe Religious Studies should be compulsory in schools
  • 91 per cent agreed they should treat others the way they wished to be treated themselves
Other links:
reviews of the book here and here.
Derren Brown blog
Telegraph, including responses from the CofE and British Humanist Association.
this link has some of the author's reasons for writing the book.

I'm saddened, but not massively surprised by the findings. It would be interesting to know what else they didn't think should be compulsory in schools, for comparison. I don't know many teenagers that love dressing up for someone else's party, so if their main exposure to God is attending other people's weddings and baptisms, then you can hardly blame them for not being in the Almighty's fan club. As with the wider population, events laid on by the institution in church buildings aren't that relevant, the best vehicle for the message of Jesus is a community living it out in the real world.

Whether we have the time to do that with all the other items on the agenda is a moot point.

Update: 'inspiration' for the title might have come from Philip Pullman?

Thoughts on Speaker John Bercow

1. . By my reckoning, we paid our MP's about £60,000 in salary during the time it took to elect him (nearly 4 hours). Forget duck ponds, Parliamentary procedures are flushing our money down the toilet. Electronic voting would have done the job in minutes. (calculations based on annual salary split down into 48 x 60 hour weeks to give an hourly rate). Mind you, I'm not exactly holding General Synod up as a model of excellence at the moment (see post below).

2. Folk are already queueing up to kneecap Bercow before he's started. Cry 'Hang On!' and let slip the dogs of peace. Give the guy a chance.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is Mission on the CofE's Agenda?

More details of the General Synod agenda for July have been released, with debates on finance, pensions, laws, the number of senior clergy, childhood, ecumenism and various other things. The nearest thing to an item on mission is a report on ministry to people with learning difficulties.

A planned debate following up Mission Shaped Church, has been shelved to create time for 'essential legislative and financial business'. I have to wonder in what way is mission not 'essential' business? There have been massive changes in the way the institutional CofE views and funds mission in recent years, but a wholesale change of mindset is still a work in process. One common mission mantra is 'mission is not on the agenda, it is the agenda'. Maybe someone in head office spilt coffee on the last 4 words.

Full details of everything on Thinking Anglicans

Update: Howard Jamieson muses on the most interesting agenda item, a proposal for the reduction in the top-heavy Anglican bureaucracy.

5 books that influenced me

I've been tagged by Clayboy with an interesting challenge:
  1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting
    influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five
    favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I
    want to know what five books have permenantly changed the way you think.
  2. Tag five others.
credit to Ken Brown for originally kicking this one off. He's compiled many of the responses here. Most of the lists look far too learned for me! (update: Ken has also compiled the 10 most popular authors from these lists. I've got one of them below, see if you can guess which before visiting)

Had to do quite a bit of thinking, and I'll probably work out as I type which the 5 are....

1. Fee & Stuart 'How To Read the Bible for All It's Worth'
One of the few specialist books about the Bible that I can actually remember reading, and getting excited about. The authors go into the different genres of Bible literature in a way which really made the Bible come alive, and make me want to take it more seriously and in more depth.

2. Francis Schaeffer 'The Church at the End of the 20th Century'
During my year out, at age 18-19, I had access to a whole load of taped talks from Schaeffers L'Abri community. The root conviction was that the Biblical worldview could address everything that modern culture struggled with, everything from nuclear disarmament to psychology to politics. It was a fantastic exercise in applied theology, and for an impressionable teenager, a great confidence boost. Here were timeless scriptures coming alive in conversation with modern technological society, and still hitting the bullseye. Schaeffer's whole approach of a Biblical worldview lived out in community, and critique of society from a Biblical standpoint, have stayed in my DNA.

3. Matthew Fox 'Original Blessing'
An absolutely dreadful book in many ways. Fox's 'creation spirituality' was adopted by the Nine O Clock Service in Sheffield as it put cultural and theological distance between itself and the mainstream. Though Fox's theology wasn't the reason for its subsequent collapse, I've often found that if people are falling apart morally, they'll tend to adapt their theology accordingly. Worse, very few people in the CofE seemed to be bothered that NOS was getting into Fox, indeed the then Archdeacon of Sheffield (now a Bishop), seemed to be a Fox fan, and wasn't alone among CofE clergy in this.

The upshot was that I decided to do an MPhil on Fox's 'theology', reading about 13 of his books, plus a whole host of other stuff on science, creation, feminism, politics, economics, spirituality, mysticism etc. There were two major challenges in Fox's work:
a) He argues that Christianity is run by a 'fall-redemption' paradigm, in which we're all cast as miserable sinners. Fox argues that we are more of an 'original blessing', and its by recovering this attitude that we'll be 'saved'. So debating with Fox involved revisiting much of the theological framework I'd adopted as an evangelical, and working out why I believed it.
b) Fox was one of the only theologians I'd encountered who translated their theology into everyday life. Most 'systematic theology' seemed to stay in the rareified clouds of doctrine, without ever encountering real life. Not so with Matthew Fox. His 'creation spirituality' offers a systematic theology of life - work, fun, sexuality, creation, food, science, history, war, politics, you name it. It made me realise how pathetic most evangelical theology was in terms of application - thousands of tomes on the atonment, but hardly any on living.

As it turned out, Fox's theology was neopaganism dressed in Christian language, but for 2 years he was a fascinating conversation partner.

4. David Watson 'Discipleship'/Richard Foster 'Celebration of Discipline'
I could probably add a whole family of books here, including Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson. An approach to scripture which sees it as a life-shaping, dynamic book which doesn't just tell the story of redemption, but teaches us how to live transformed lives which reflect Christ.

5. Cray et al Mission Shaped Church
At heart mission is what makes me tick, and this is one of several mission books I could have chosen. God is a missionary God, who sends both his Son and his church to redeem a lost creation, and to spread the news of his love. MSC reminds us that, first and foremost, the church exists for mission. If it has ceased to be and to spread good news, it has ceased to be the church and become something else.

I'm conscious that, apart from the first one, none of these are directly about the Bible, they are about something else. Perhaps that's my pragmatism coming through. But ultimately I don't believe the Bible is supposed to sit there in glorious isolation, if it hasn't anything to say at 0am on a Monday morning in Soweto, Seoul and Somerset, then we've been reading it the wrong way.

Ok, I'll tag Mark Meynell, Rachel at Revise Reform, Jonny Baker, John and Olive Drane (2churchmice), and Archbishop Cranmer. Why? Because I'm really curious.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Death and All His Friends

The BBC website currently has a vid of the 'UK's first Festival of the Dying'. The Transitus Festival, held yesterday in Sturminster Newton, Dorset (just down the road), comes with a strong New Age agenda. One of the sponsoring bodies is very keen on 'sacred sites' around Glastonbury, and many of the festival workshops feature guardian angels, psychic artists and the like. The Christian chaplain from Dorchester was also down to do a workshop, so good for her for getting involved.

The main themes of the Festival included palliative care, green burials, and helping with the dying process. Our culture has lost a lot of its rituals and beliefs around death, so it is open season for pretty much anyone who can help to steer people through it. One challenge for the church is how do we engage with New Age beliefs around death, and how do we engage more meaningfully with people than simply delivering the funeral service.

Intriguing that the BBC reported on the festival without any sense that it was coming from the 'wacky fringe'. The core of the report is that the NHS is percieved to be failing people at the point of death in the care it gives to patients and their loved ones. It also mentioned spiritual values around death.

It's significant that the reporter talks of 'new rituals' springing up around death and dying, and that people want a 'more personal approach'. At a recent research day at Church House there was talk of a 'Funerals Project', which might engage with how people percieve church-led funerals. The outcomes of a similar project on marriage spoke of how much people valued the personal touch, rather than a conveyor-belt approach. The challenge is how we create time and space for that to happen alongside so many other things which seem like priorities.

For info, here's part of the Transitus philosophy:
The Network comprises a growing group of people working in a way that honours all aspects of life - mind, body, spirit and emotions - that are involved with the sacred process of dying. Our aims are: to release fears and taboos; support those dying and bereaved; raise awareness of 'green' and family-based approaches to death; and to encourage the acceptance of the concept of continuity of consciousness. The Network also supports its members so that none of us feels alone. Members include those working with: midwifing the soul; music thanatology; alternative funerals and celebrations; natural burials; grief counselling; life after death; related workshops; and more.

At one level this is a typical New Age paragraph about death. But apart from a couple of strange bits of jargon, why isn't this seen as part of what Christian faith offers? Death as a sacred process, the treatment of the whole person, life after death, enabling people to die well, grief counselling, etc. Maybe the problem is that our engagement with death has become so professionalised - through the clergy and the clergy alone - that creative and personal approaches which could come from the wider body of Christ have been crowded out.

What do you think?

Reading for Fathers Day

1. How do Fathers Fit In? looks at all the ways in which fathers add to family life, and to the richness of a childs upbringing and experience. If you know any dads who are wondering what they contribute to their kids wellbeing, it's worth a look. It goes through each stage in a childs life, looking at how the fathers role helps the children to develop and grow, e.g:

Both mothers and fathers encourage their babies to investigate the world, manipulate objects, and explore physical relationships. However, mothers and fathers have different styles of relating. Mothers tend to speak soothingly and softly in repetitive rhythms to their infants and snugly hold them. Fathers tend to provide more verbal and physical stimulation, by patting their babies gently and communicating to them with sharp bursts of sound. As babies grow older, many come to prefer playing with their fathers who provide unpredictable, stimulating, and exciting interaction. This stimulation is important because it fosters healthy development of the baby's brain and can have lasting effects on children's social, emotional, and intellectual development. Infants with involved fathers tend to score higher on tests of thinking skills and brain development....

....Statistics about children who do not live with their fathers can be grim. On almost every outcome that has been tested, including educational achievement, self-esteem, responsible social behaviour, and adjustment as adults, children do better when they live with both of their parents. Family instability and financial problems do contribute to the poor outcomes for children from broken homes. However, as one scholar who reviewed 28 studies of father absence states: 'the major disadvantage related to father absence for children is lessened parental attention'.

2. On the catastrophic effects of absent fathers Experiments in Living: the Fatherless Family is sobering reading. It details the toxic effects of broken families upon all parties.

There is no more powerful force on the face of the earth for building strong relationships than unconditional love.

I learnt that lesson the hard way. I remember my daughter Katie coming home from school. She came running in yelling, “Dad, I got 95 per cent in maths!” I had two questions for that little girl: “What happened to the five per cent?” and “Where were you in the class order?” I’m not proud of that conversation.
Of course, every parent should do their utmost to motivate their child and help them achieve their best, but I remember realising that Katie needed to know that my love for her was not based on her accomplishments, but on our relationship – the fact that I am her father. In other words, love without strings.

4. The Dad's Domain on the Care for the Family website is well worth a visit, as is their articles section, which includes stuff on parenting, stepfamilies, money, keeping your kids safe on the web, etc.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pass the Salt

An extract from Gordon Browns Guardian interview today
…private and public worlds have both shown themselves to be irresponsible. “The public realm and the free market realm are subject to inherent weaknesses that have got to be underpinned by having shared values that lead to shared rules,” he says, in some version, many times. Values, values, values, rules, rules, rules.

What are our ’shared values’? Hmmmm

- The expenses scandal rumbles on, latest allegation is that 50 MP’s claimed more for council tax than they were actually billed. The only 2 MPs to have quit parliament are the Speaker and a Labour chap who was set up by his own party.
Shared values: greed, secrecy, taking the public for fools, newspaper sales, censorship, troughing, pride, corruption.

- Formula 1 teams are threatening a breakaway because Max Mosley won’t allow them to spend as much as they want to. They’re portraying themselves as righteous but wronged. One of these teams was penalised for cheating earlier in the year, another accused of spying a couple of years ago.
Shared values: greed, sex, power, global warming, deceit, testosterone.

- Setanta Sports is running out of cash, and it looks like their arms race with Sky will be a short one. Riding the avalanche of cash which has stolen the soul of football are folk like Ronaldo, now the most expensive player in the world. After a season of protestations of loyalty to Man U, one of the games most notorious divers has followed the money.
Shared values: greed, winking, cheating, lying, devil take the hindmost, market share. Someone mumbled something about the ‘beautiful game’ but I couldn’t see it for the size of the price tag.

- As unemployment surges past 2 million, RBS’s Fred Goodwin has finally agreed to reduce his pension, under threat of legal action. He’s accepted a £3.7m increase in his pension pot, instead of the original £8.2m, having already pocketed a 7 figure lump sum.
Shared values: whatever I can get away with, greed, inequality, rewarding failure.

- The global total of ‘undernourished’ people has hit 1 billion for the first time, in the wake of the global financial crisis. There is still enough wealth to go round, but it’s not going round. Rich nations have defaulted on their commitments on debt and aid, as they have on commitments to reduce carbon emissions, a failure which will hit the poorest most. The rules favour the rich: for example rich nations have pre-ordered swine flu vaccines, whilst poorer nations can’t afford to.
Shared values: greed, global warming, death, out of sight out of mind, selfishness, consumer capitalism.

Basically if you have the money, you can set the rules. I’m struggling to think of a single area of life where the rules are set by those with the least power. Help me out here?

Brown is right: unless there is an alternative set of values to ‘all of the above’, the rules will continue to favour the immoral.

We had to chuck some bread the other day which had gone mouldy in the warmer weather. Before fridges and chemicals, salt was the most common preservative, and Jesus once told his followers to be the ’salt of the earth’. Of the two opposing forces, decay and preservation, decay is the natural state (see above). It requires an active choice to be a force of health and preservation. There is a sour taste of decay about the stories above, someone please pass the salt.

This is a cross post from Touching Base, my regular column on the Wardman Wire.

Let The One Who Has a Field, Sell It to a Developer

Housing Projections
Latest government projections suggest that in just over 20 years, there will be 6.3 million extra housholds in the England. This is a rise of nearly 30%, driven by a combination of population increase, higher life expectancy (half the extra households will be 65 and overs), fracturing families and net migration. Summary here.

Impact on the South-West
The South-West will see a rise from 2.11 million households to just over 3 million. That's 1 extra home for every 2.1 houses - picture that in your street/town.

The planning agency for the South-West has planned extra housing up to 2026 - South Somerset's share of that is 19,700 houses, of which Yeovil is identified for 11,400 extra houses.
That will increase the population of Yeovil from the current 40,000-ish to 65,000.

However, the planned totals for 2026 are based on old government projections. These new ones represent a 10% increase on previous estimates. That could be spread evenly around the area ( = 1000 extra houses for Yeovil), or done on a more 'lumpy' basis.

A final version of the 'Regional Spatial Strategy' for the South-West is due at the end of June from the Department of Communities and Local Government. I don't know whether Hazel Blears departure will affect those timings.

Here's the regional projections from 2006-2031, figures in '000. If you want to work out population, the average household size is estimated at roughly 2.2 people per household:

North East: 1,110 to 1,316 19% rise
North West: 2,931 to 3,617 23% rise
Yorkshire & The Humber: 2,181 to 2,932 34% rise
East Midlands: 1,849 to 2,539 37% rise
West Midlands: 2,237 to 2,762 23% rise
East: 2,371 to 3,211 35% rise
London: 3,178 to 4,016 26% rise
South East: 3,447 to 4,425 28% rise
South West: 2,211 to 3,001 36% rise
England: 21,515 to 27,818 29% rise

Implications for the Church of England
1. Unless there is a massive rise in ordination levels, the ratio of clergy:general population will continue to drop.

2. This in turn raises serious questions about the nature of local leadership within the CofE. We need to be planting churches which can function well with lay leadership and less clergy input, and recalibrating the ones we have to work in the same way. That's not about doing the same work with less resources, we need to rethink the work itself.

3. Ecumenical mission partnership moves up the agenda. The parish system is creaking at the seams, and in many places exists more on paper than in reality. If these projections are even half true, many areas will be transformed over the next 20 years. Ancient parish boundaries will bear less and less relationship with reality, and without a serious effort at church planting, the parish system itself will cease to mean anything.

We can be committed to neighbourhood churches without having to run them all ourselves. In nearby Weston-super-Mare, different neighbourhoods in new estates are served by a mixture of churches, not all of them Anglican. Here in Bath and Wells we've just appointed an Ecumenical Mission Enabler (had a good chat earlier this week), and the whole ecumenical agenda itself needs to focus more on collaborative mission.

4. Dioceses will need some kind of church planting strategy for new estates, and to take time to resource local church leaders who are trying to engage with new communities on the ground.

A local picture.
We have a local situation with a 4-parish benefice, 4 village churches, but where more than half the population is in an urban area on the edge of Yeovil, mostly built in the last 20 years. This neighbourhood doesn't have an accessible, local parish church, even though it falls into 3 (rural) parishes. The parish system hasn't kept up with real people and real lives, but whenever you talk, about moving boundaries people mutter darkly about how long it will take and what a faff it will be. Within current structures, with so much new housing planned, that is a picture of the future for more and more people.

If we are committed to the parish system, then we have to find a way to reform it so that it keeps on working.

and finally... presently, nobody is building anything. You can plan all you like, but at the moment neither developers, nor government, can actually afford the houses we need right now, never mind the houses of the future....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Obama Issues Coded Warning to Ahmedinajad

Anonymous Blogging

NightJack, an award-winning anonymous blog maintained by a Lancashire policeman, has been taken offline. A Times journalist broke his identity, and a High Court judge ruled on Tuesday that bloggers have no right to keep their identities secret.

Not surprisingly, plenty of bloggers have something to say: Heresy Corner finds it 'all rather disturbing', Church Mouse thinks the Times comes out of this badly, Dizzy thinks anonymity was never a 'right' in the first place, whilst Tom Harris takes the opposing view and wonders if the Times were just trying to silence a rival news source. Good piece by Hopi Sen.

NightJack himself has written for the Times giving his own story of the 'outing', and what it will mean for him. Lancashire constabulary said yesterday they would let him off with a written warning.

1. Iain Dale accuses the Times of hypocrisy. They protect the anonymity of their own sources, but are happy to torpedo the anonymity of bloggers. At the very least this is double standards.

2. On this blog I've deliberately chosen not to be anonymous. That's partly because it was initially created to be part of a conversation about mission with people I meet both face to face in Yeovil/Somerset and online. It's also because it's a good discipline: I feel that it makes me accountable. On several occasions I've had to think twice about posting something, or check that I had my facts right, or that I'd been fair to someone I was debating with. Also as a Christian there's an integrity about blogging as myself, and I'd feel uncomfortable with having a split/secret identity.

3. In some settings, like the police, civil service, army etc., anonymity is the only way to blog. But it's also risky. If you've entered those professions and have an agreement to keep confidences, then blogging breaks that agreement. At the same time, we need whistle blowers where a culture of secrecy is hiding malpractice, corruption, or things that would be 'in the public interest' (notoriously slippery term!!!)

4. The fact that I'm 'me' puts some limits on things. There are thoughts I've had about the Church of England, individuals, issues etc. that I've had to keep to myself. And there's nothing wrong with that - there's a Ben Elton novel (Blind Faith) set in the future where everyone knows everything about everybody, and it's horrific. Privacy is a good thing, and not everything in your head should just be splurged out willy nilly. There are some things better said in private, or thrashed through face to face with particular people and groups, rather than vented online as cut-price group therapy.

5. I wonder what the reaction would have been if another blogger had identified NightJack. The fact that it's a newspaper, with all the associated issues about anonymous sources, has, understandably, got bloggers up in arms. There are two separate issues here:
- whether the Times is operating to double standards
- the ethics and protocols of anonymous blogging: is it simply a fair cop if you're found out? And does it matter who finds you out? If you are the author of the words, then is it only right that you take the consequences of those words?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Praise of Pointless and Shallow Worship

With the recent launch of 'Ancient Faith: Future Mission' on fresh expressions in the catholic tradition, Nick Baines (ht Church Mouse) has been responding to a Telegraph report on the book, where one CofE cleric called experments in new forms of worship 'shallow and pointless.'

I love shallow and pointless.

When we introducing our children to water for the first time, shallow was better than deep. It was safer, and they felt more at ease there. Our eldest is just starting to get used to deeper water now, but would never have managed it without starting in the shallow stuff and discovering it wasn't something to be afraid of. And being children, our kids engagement with water is mostly pointless - it doesn't have a goal, they just enjoy it. One of the great statements of faith, the Westminster Confession, states that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever."

We're just about to try out our first 'Messy Church' (one of the best used 'fresh expressions' models) - sitting in a cafe discussing it last week, the lady on the next table spotted the fliers and said 'ooh, that sounds interesting'. It's the connotation of fun and play which attracts people, without the label of 'church' putting them off.

A pool which has a shallow and a deep end has more room and gives more people a way in. Some can dive straight into the deep end, others wade in tentatively from the shallows. Questions about where you are in the pool are secondary to the fact that we're all in it together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The All-Woman Shortlist

The blogosphere, like 5 live phone-ins, is a male dominated place. So here's a testosterone-free shortlist of some of the blogs I pop in on:

Maggi Dawn: missioner, musician, theologian, writer, pretty much everything really.


Libby Purves'/Beth Twiston Davies Faith Central blog at the Times.

And of course Ruth Gledhill the Times religious affairs correspondent.

Help I Work with Children written by Lynn, a children and families pastor, who's just finished her theology degree.

Stuff Christian Culture Likes: an inspired, laser-guided missile at the things which get adopted by Christian subculture and then assumed to be Gospel.

Christ Radiance a Fresh Expressions blog in Cornwall run by Eleanor Burne-Jones. Grounded and insightful.

Revise Reform, a blog by theological student Rachel, at my old college of St. Johns Nottingham, on theology, Bible, women in ministry, evangelicalism and other stuff.

Strands of Life FibreFairy seems to spend most of her time tweeting people, and very interesting she is too.

Nadine Dorries: politicians blog at their peril, and Ms Dorries copped a lot of flak for suspending comments at one stage. But she speaks her mind, very readable, and is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship (a post on the online Christian presence within the political parties can wait for another time).

Update Humble apologies to The Radical Evangelical, who I'm now adding to the list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage

Had this recommended by someone I met at a baptism 'do' recently,

there's a few clips on Youtube, website here. A church in Wellington, Somerset has used the DVD set, and it's gone down well. Anyone else come across this?

As with the 'comedians on God' series here, I think comedy is such a good way to come at issues, especially serious and potentially tricky areas like relationships and marriage enrichment. If you can deal with it and laugh about it at the same time, then that's a massive bonus.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New Banksy Exhibition in Bristol

The phenomena that is Banksy has just taken over Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery with a secretly planned exhibition. More pics via the Beeb.

'Banksy versus Bristol Museum' is free, and open daily until 31st August. See you there, though no doubt culture vulture Steve Tilley will probably beat me to it.

Chris Moyles gets excited about church

This is really worth a listen/watch, some very choice quotes in the whole discussion
'baptised, that's the same as being christened isn't it?'

'I just thought it was amazing'

"it was the most fascinating thing I've seen in a long time"

"It makes church more interesting, I'm all for it"

"the downside of church is that it's boring"

Ht Richard Peat (who has a very good discussion on whether you have to be an evangelical church to be growing), Church Mouse. The church in question is Kingsgate Community Church, who were live on the BBC on 31st May. On behalf of the rest of us, thankyou Kingsgate. Even if you leave off the Chris Moyles narration, the clip above is so inspiring.

They should invite Moyles along to give his testimony.....

Various other links and comments via Wikio.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quit First, Ask Questions Later

Update: well I never, Alan Wilson has written a piece entitled 'Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix' for the Grauniad (Ht Thinking Anglicans). This may look like a co-ordinated Anglican message, but trust me, it isn't.

Hazel Blears has been doing some thinking since last week. She now wishes she’d done the thinking before her triple-whammy of the Observer article, the resignation and the brooch, but the horse - or possibly the chipmunk - has bolted.

Withoutapauseoranyspacesit’sveryhardtomakesenseofthings. High-speed, 24-hour culture has plenty of adrenaline, but not enough......................space. (Aside - tried to just have a long space in that gap but nether Blogger nor Wordpress would let me. Even our blog software can’t stand space) We shoot first and ask questions later, but corpses don’t give great answers - something Blears is discovering as she fights to salvage her political career.

Here’s the dilemma: if we don’t get instant answers to problems and issues then that’s ‘dithering’. But often the best answers come after a bit of time to think, consult and plan. Gordon Browns notorious Youtube video was a classic example of feeling a need to DO SOMETHING, and botching it. Brown is a naturally long-term man trapped in a short-term system, and finding it doesn’t suit him.

We can’t have it both ways. We naturally expect everything ‘now’, but if we want swift, decisive action from the government, church, banks, etc., then it’s less likely (unless the need is screamingly urgent), that they’ll get it right.

The quality of our politics, leadership, and national life requires that government and agencies be given time to think things through. This fights against our culture of the instant. Any government which gives the people what they want won’t be giving us what we need.

Repenting at leisure is all very well, but it’s better not to sin in the first place. 24-7 culture struggles to find the time to make quality choices. The ancient tradition of Sabbath - rest for yourself and for your workers - built in time every week to take stock and step back. A culture without this has lost its Pause button, and that’s not good.

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

Video for Fathers Day, from 'Blood Diamond'

I am your Father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son, again.

A bit early, I know, but it gives you time to suggest to your vicar that it gets used on Fathers Day. Or if folks are a bit squeamish about the gun, use Finding Nemo. Wingclips also have a selection of free 1-2 min clips from top movies on the Fatherhood theme.

The CofE has a prayer for Fathers Day and some resources for worship.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is the BNP Racist?

Is the Pope a Catholic? The British National Party go to some lengths on their website to dispute that they're a racist party. Matt Wardman has done us all a service by demolishing their claim. There's also a nice little site, called 'Is the BNP racist' . It has the longer answer to the question, rather than the short answer.

Which is 'yes'.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kids Awkward Questions about Jesus

superb. Ht Beliefnet, Dave Faulkner, from the wonderful Outnumbered. This isn't far off some of our tea-time conversations...

Have I Got Speakers for You

The news that Ann Widdecombe has put her name forward as Speaker for the House of Commons is confusing me. I keep visualising Parliament crammed into the Have I Got News For You Studio, with Widdecombe presiding.

The candidates list is currently:

Ann Widdecombe (Con),
Margaret Beckett (Lab),
Sir Alan Beith (Lib)
John Bercow (Con)
Sir Patrick Cormack (Con)
Parmjit Dhanda (Lab)
Frank Field (Lab)
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con)
Sir Michael Lord (Con)
Richard Shepherd (Con)
Sir George Young (Con)

Which reads like a very dull version of the guest presenter rota on HIGNFY. So how about:

- Guest Speaker: a rota of folk to preside over Parliament, drawn from wider society. Jeremy Paxman, Brian Blessed, Trisha Goddard, Boris, the Big Brother voice, there are plenty of candidates.

- Wheel of Cuts. Write 'NHS' in the middle of a large wheel, and percentages from 1 to 20 round the edge. Spin it to decide on budget levels for future years. Repeat for other departments.

- Odd one Out: find pictures of the 4 most objectionable world leaders, and decide which one you like least/is least able to defend themselves. Then invade their country.

- 'In the News This Week' David Cameron and Gordon Brown discover who's resigned/been caught fiddling expenses.

- 'Missing Words Round' Party spokespeople are asked to complete the sentence "We will ____ tax by ____% following the General Election"

the possibilities are endless. And then because Parliament will only take up 30m on a Friday night, that'll leave those hard working MP's with plenty of time to tackle all the other issues.

New Fresh Expressions Resources & News

Phase 2 of Fresh Expressions, under the leadership of Graham Cray, has just been blessed and launched - it now covers 4 church streams, and 3 mission agencies (CMS, Church Army, Anglican Church Planting Initiatives).

The latest Fresh Expressions newspaper, due out in July, can be pre-ordered from the main FX website.

Steve Croft has a new book out 'Jesus People: What the Church Should Do Next', contents and the introduction are online here. (Ht 2churchmice)

Steve has produced a very useful exercise for staff teams, PCC's, church leadership etc. to do, on the nature of the church, and what is essential to it. Great resource.

There's also a new book drawing together some of the sacramental/catholic style Fresh Expressions, 'Ancient Faith, Future Mission'. There's a conference on this theme in the Ely area, details on Maggi Dawns blog. Update: reviewed on Start the Week.

Lots of FX links on Start the Week this week.

Related, a really good article by Claire Dalpra on outreach to the SAGA generation, which explodes some of the myths we have about 'old people' and what will connect with them

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twit Wisdom

"Calling someone a coward via the internet isn't courage"


(context: a debate over whether MP's who spoke up for Brown to leave at Mondays meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party were 'courageous').

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Breaking News: Nobody Quit the Government Today

But it's only 10.45pm, 75 minutes to go. Anything could happen.

Rebels without a Commander

Tom Harris is the latest Labour MP to ask for Gordon Brown to go, along with Jane Kennedy, Frank Field, James Purnell, Caroline Flint, Stephen Byers, Charles Clarke, Siobhan McDonagh, Sally Keeble and Fiona McTaggart. There seem to be plenty of rebels, but many are acting alone.
Where is the leadership?

I'm reminded of a scene in Gladiator, where Russell Crowe (a former Roman army general, who is now a slave gladiator) gets the slaves to work together as a team. They're chained and on foot, faced by soldiers on chariots, but by locking shields and working together, they win. The one or two who try to go it alone are cut to pieces (literally).

Gordon Brown seems to have faced down the possibility of a leadership challenge precisely because of lack of leadership from his opponents. Various MP's have spoken out or stood down, all hoping that their actions would precipitate a leadership election. But without leadership and strategy, these have just been a series of damaging, but isolated, incidents. Hopi Sen says a bit more about this.

Maybe it's a tacit respect for Brown that none of them will openly stand against him. Maybe it's a lack of nerve among his potential rivals. If anyone outside the current cabinet goes on to stand in a future leadership contest, they need to be asked "why didn't you stand in June 2009?" If courage fails them now, then what other tests will they balk at?

The other quality on display is loyalty: from the Damascene convert Peter Mandelson through to Alan Johnson, senior figures have made a point of rallying round Brown and speaking up in his defence. She's not my favourite politician, but Harriet Harman has led from the front in this, putting herself through 2 election nights in the TV studios to defend Brown and his record.

Loyalty is vital to success as a leader. If you can't take people with you, and have those who will take a bullet for you, then you won't last very long under pressure. It's significant that in the Bible, several leaders who go it alone fall away (e.g. Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah), whilst others learn to build a team (Moses, Elisha, Paul) and are able to see things through to the end. It takes time to invest in others, and to win their loyalty and trust, but once that's been done "a cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes)

Agonising or organising?

Just started reading 'Breakout' by Mark Stibbe, on his experience in moving St. Andrews Chorleywood towards 'clusters' as a way of moving into mission. Interesting to hear his reflections on spending 4-5 years of being event-centred, organising big central events/courses for people to bring their friends to, but seeing frustratingly little fruit.

The church has moved towards clusters: groups of up to 50 based in neighbourhoods, workplaces etc., as lay-led missional communities - but I've not got to those chapters yet, but see p20-22 of the St. Andrews parish profile for the story, thanks to Richard Peat for the link.

Anyway, there's this very punchy quote from Leonard Ravenhill on page xv of the introduction:

"The church used to be a LIFEBOAT... now she is a CRUISE SHIP...We're not marching to Zion, we're sailing there with ease.

In the Apostolic church it says they were all amazed and now in our churches everyone wants to be amused. The Church began in the upper room despised, in the upper room with a bunch of men agonising, and it's ended up in the supper room with a bunch of women organising.

We mistake rattle for revival, and commotion for creation, and action for unction."

It struck me not just because it's a good quote, but because it's a bit too close to home for the way I like to do things, and the way I do mission.

Monday, June 08, 2009

1 in 3 Want to Meet Jesus

Ok, spot the deliberate mistake in this Express article:

JESUS Christ is the dead person most Britons would love to meet, a study revealed yesterday.

Don't worry folks, you'll all get to meet him one day.... In the meantime, what a fantastic opportunity: if 1 in 3 really want to meet Jesus, then there's plenty of introducing we can do.

It's yet another poll to mark the launch of a commercial product, here's a bit more:
One in three of the 3,000 people polled picked the son of God. And Princess Diana – who was killed in a car crash in 1997 – was second.

Poet and playwright William Shakespeare was third, physicist Albert Einstein fourth and Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe fifth.
The poll of 3,000 people was conducted to launch ************ on DVD. A spokesman said: “These results show that Jesus Christ will always be the British public’s ‘Superstar’.

“But we were fully expecting Princess Diana to top the poll as she won the hearts of the nation and no one has ever really forgotten her place within the Royal family or the impact she made on ordinary people.”

Artist Leonardo da Vinci – best known for the Mona Lisa – took sixth place and Elvis Presley was seventh. Author Roald Dahl, singer Freddie Mercury and activist Martin Luther King complete the top 10.

Other news, Channel 4 has realised that saying 'oh my God' is offensive to Christians, and has given Kirsty Alsopp a good telling off for it. Can't wait until they start applying those standards to Big Brother..... This is remarkable, as C4 is normally the trailblazer for destroying whatever boundaries of taste and decency which exist on the main TV channels. Maybe it got bored of being outdone by Channel 5 and has decided to go the other way. Anyway, good for them. Blasphemous language is offensive to Christians, and we often just get so used to it that we stop bothering to complain. (telegraph version here)

Wikio Top Religious Blogs in May

The latest Wikio blog rankings are out, with a new interface which only lets you see 20 blogs at a time, but it also means you get more detail on the blogs - it used to just be a list of names. That also accounts for the list being a bit longer this month, as I now have a slightly better idea of what some of them are about!....

Sites dealing with religion at various levels include:
29 Cranmer
92 Holy Smoke (Damian Thomson of the Telegraph)
103 Heresy Corner (blogs about lots of stuff, frequent posts on religion)
109 Bartholemews Notes on Religion
144 Bishop Alan
165 Mediawatchwatch as opposed to Mediawatch, which is much more worth a visit. I'll have to add the latter to the Wikio listings and see if it can overtake its cynical relative.
175 The one you're reading right now.
179 SPCK/SSG News Notes & Info
209 Virtue Online
214 Of Course I Could Be Wrong
225 Anglican Mainstream (which isn't a blog. Have I said that before?)

the headline list now goes up to 300, but I had to stop somewhere. Sorry if you were 226.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

EA Games: We Can Do Better than God

Update: turns out that EA even faked a Christian protest to raise the profile of this story.

Nick Baines notes a story on EA Games, who surveyed 1000 11-16's to see what they knew of the Ten Commandments. Unsurprisingly, many couldn't name any of them.

Guess what, it's a publicity stunt to publicise Sims 3, their latest release. They're inviting gamers to re-write the 10 commandments, to see if they can improve on the originals.

And of course, it's being misreported. The survey found that those interviewed thought that most of the commandments were still relevant

Still relevant, in descending order, were: 1. Do not kill. 2. Do not steal. 3. Do not cheat on your partner with another person. 4. Do not envy others. 5. Respect your parents. 6. Do not accuse a person of something they did not do.

Pretty good for something over 3000 years old. But please don't sip your coffee before the next bit:

Found to be irrelevant to today’s British society were: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy; Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.


Electronic Arts suggests four replacements for the commandments deemed irrelevant, based again on results from the survey asking what respondents would do if they could “play God”: 7. Respect all people regardless of race, religion or sexuality. 8. Do not commit acts of terrorism. 9. Respect and protect the planet. 10. Do not be motivated by greed.

I'm stunned on several levels:
- That a games company somehow thinks it can do better than God.
- That the manufacturers of 'Left 4 Dead', 'Rise of the Witch King', and 'Dead Space', to name but a few, feel they're in a position to give moral guidance to anyone.
- Have another look at those new commandments. No.7 is summed up by the 6 'relevant' commands. No 8 is 'do not kill', and no 10 is 'do not covet'. That just leaves one 'new' command, which itself is a logical consequence of loving God and loving our neighbour.

And of course, EA games wouldn't want people resting on the Sabbath, they might find better things to do than buy their products, or use a plastic box to shoot aliens. Neither would they want people putting other things above God, just in case they found this whole exercise tacky, offensive and insulting.

My small collection of EA products is now going in the bin.

useful summary article here, debate here. I'll leave it to someone else to work out how many of the Ten Commandments would actually work as a Tweet, but I suspect it's nearly all of them.