Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sin and Misery

"Failure to attain a deeply satisfying life always has the effect of making sinful actions seem attractive. Here lies the strength of temptation.

this is no less true if the failure is caused by our efforts to be what we regard as 'spiritual'. Normally, overcoming temptation will be easier if we are basically happy in our lives. To cut off the joys and pleasures associated with our bodily and social existence as 'unspiritual', then, can actually ahve the effect of weakening us in our efforts to do what is right."

Dallas Willard, 'the Spirit of the Disciplines' p81

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A place of beauty

For some reason I never linked it at the time, but around this time last year, some folks set up a prayer room in a secondary school, for students to use as they wanted. Accounts of the room are here and here.

I even got a sense of peace and stillness just reading about it, which is pretty unusual for me. Here's some of the poems written by students using the room:

here are a few of the amazing Letters From God that the students have been writing;
"If you don't love me, I will love youIf you don't care for me, I will care for youSo think - why should it be this way?"

"Everyone is beautiful
Everyone is special
Everyone is different
Everyone is smart
A poem from God to you all
Good luck!"

"No matter what, I will love you, watch over you and care for you. In the good times and the bad times. God"

"Never forget that I am with you always. I am protecting you and guiding you all the way. I love you and will never stop loving you. When you sin I will forgive you. I am your God."

"If you have a problem,
I will listen and not judge.

"Dear Child
Calm down
Breathe and relax
God is love."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Celebration Disease

Recently struck by a passage from Bob Hopkins & Mike Breen 'Clusters'

"As the local building gets more grand, it mirrors the cathedral in layout. As local gifts develop, the single sackbut is repalced by the orchestra, and then a smaller version of the cathedral organ. Then the parish church added the cathedral procession wtih robed choir and associated servers all adding to the colour and pageant.

And subtly begins the separation into a non-congregation..... even the impersonal, anonymous characteristic of the cathedral seems to have filtered down to the parish congregation. As a child i was taken religiously to our parish church but no one would speak to each other, let alone minister to one another with gifts and interaction.

All the good qualities that make the Cathedral celebration such a blessing, have turned up as curses of the local congregation to make it what it's not supposed to be."

I don't know how historically accurate this is, but the picture rings true. The parish church, the local gathered community, morphs from a congregation - an interactive gathering of the body of Christ - into a spectator sport, as everything they've seen on pilgrimage to the Cathedral gets imported into parish worship.

The same thing has a modern parallel, as pilgrims to New Wine or Spring Harvest return loaded with new songs and the latest guitar chord, and seek to recreate Big Top Worship in the 25-strong 9am congregation in a draughty Victorian barn. The same perhaps applies to Walsingham, but I don't really move in those circles, so I'm not sure.

Are celebrations simply a bigger and better version of what we do every Sunday in our churches? Or, to put it another way, is what we do every Sunday in our churches supposed to be a smaller and more local version of what we experience at big celebrations? Or should they be more distinct from one another?

The church of Acts met for worship, teaching, prayer, fellowship and food - we manage the first two, have someone lead us in prayer for the third, manage the 4th over coffee if people don't have to rush off to fix the roast, and the food is custard creams, or hobnobs if you're lucky. The dynamics of meeting in a home, around a table, as the natural place for worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship, has been traded in for the more formal setting of the theatre/classroom. That works if you don't need to interact with what's going on up front, with the 'performance'. But does that really serve the gathered local church in its life as the body of Christ?

Breen & Hopkins book is about 'clusters' - drawing on several large UK churches who now break their congregations into groups of 30-50, as a natural sized gathering for mission and fellowship. These either have a neighbourhood focus, or focus on particular subcultures (e.g. clubbers, the homeless, a school, old folks homes). The cell group remains key for pastoral support and accountability, and the larger celebration for teaching and vision, but it seems to be the 'cluster' sized community - small enough that everyone knows everyone else, but big enough to actually get things done - which is proving most effective in mission. Cells are too scary for new members, and ironically so are the big celebrations, as the pool for 'come to church' invitations is fished to exhaustion.

- how accurate is this picture?

- how do clusters work in places which aren't megachurches like Chorleywood and St. Thomas' Sheffield?

- is this an admission of the failure of cell church as the latest mission solution - and how big a part do structures actually play anyway?

- The 'clusters' literature suggests that this is the structural change which will unlock mission through the local church. Perhaps, but how do you apply the logic to a church that only has 50 members? A big church can maintain both its Sunday gathering, and cluster life. A smaller church doesn't have the resources to do both, does it?

Comments may take some time to appear, as I'm not at my desk much in the next couple of days. But please post them anyway!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rowans Rottweiler

Watch out folks, Rowan Williams has a new fan:

"The Anglican church has at least a few shreds of decency, traces of kindness and humanity with which Jesus himself might have connected.... Archbishop Rowan Williams is too nice for his own good."

Yes, Richard Dawkins has entered the Benedicts Boomerang debate. The Voice of Reason! Well, sort of - the article looks like it was ghostwritten by Dave Allen (literally, I suppose). Very readable, and typically direct. Ht Steve Borthwick

In further developments, the Pope appears to have inspired the Rationalist Society to accept agnostics. I'd forgotten they existed - how many atheist splinter groups are there? This may or may not be entirely serious.

PS apologies if you're here looking for 'Sin and Misery', that's coming later in the week, published in error earlier this evening!!

Fresh Expressions: New Resources - vids, books, stories.

Various new bits and pieces coming out from Fresh Expressions:

Sanctus: Fresh Expressions of Church in the Sacramental Tradition, a new DVD with 7 different stories of contemplative/sacramental style Fresh Expressions. Good viewing for catholics who are more concerned about mission than about ecumenical politics. And even those who aren't.
And for non-catholics who are..... well, here's the vid anyway:

Mission-shaped congregations, a new DVD with resources for folk who want to introduce Fresh Expressions and the thinking of the Mission Shaped Church report to their churches.

Very encouraging story of a brand new church in a new housing area near Kettering, engaging with the community. Sounds great, though I wonder if the group of laypeople would have been able to kick this off themselves before the 'official' pioneer leader arrived. New housing is a mission challenge here in Yeovil, but the model of sending in a paid professional to each estate isn't practical or sustainable.

Changing church for a changing world, new book exploring FX in the Methodist Church. The Methodists have also announced £7m of funding for new outreach with under-30's, here's the story from the Methodist Recorder, in case the link expires:

PIONEERING mission is “firmly on the agenda of the Methodist Church”, it has been declared, as work progresses with the implementation of a ground-breaking £7 million initiative to reach Britain’s “unchurched” young adults.

This affirmation of Methodism’s dedication to pioneering ministries has come from the co-ordinator of VentureFX, the Church’s 10-year scheme to recruit pioneer leaders who can plant new Christian communities – rooted in the Methodist tradition – for people in their 20s and 30s who have no connection to Church.

Launched earlier this year, the scheme will seek to establish five projects a year during the next few years, reaching the total of 20 within its first phase (Recorder, February 5). These projects will be jointly sponsored by VentureFX and local circuits or Districts who are “enthusiastic” about reaching this “missing generation”.

The Church is inviting circuits and Districts to propose suitable projects where pioneer leaders might work. It has also begun the process of selecting the leaders, who can be lay or ordained. With these key stages under way, VentureFX co-ordinator the Rev Ian Bell has reminded Methodists of the importance of the initiative, which he believes is “a truly Methodist way of responding to contemporary mission needs”.

You can sign up for a monthly FX e-newsletter through

Monday, October 26, 2009

Seen Elsewhere: from Bono to Benedict

A new book on U2 'We Get to Carry Each Other: the Gospel According to U2', which was released last week. U2 streamed a live gig onto the web a couple of days ago, think it's still available here. Includes a live link to the international space station. Typically modest!

Bishop Alan, 'the Anglican church is more like a coral reef than a train set', which took me a few seconds to work out, but is starting to make sense.

Best running commentary on the Benedictine Brew is at the Beaker Folk, notably the 'real time conversions feed'. For all the documents and reaction, if you're really keen on following every twist and turn, Thinking Anglicans is very good. The Forward in Faith conference at the weekend is all online here - I don't really 'get' Anglo-Catholicism, so it's quite an education just to listen to where the speakers are coming from, even if at the end of some speeches I think 'then why aren't you a Roman Catholic already?'

There are also suspicions of a rigged online poll. Not on the internet, surely?

Maggi Dawn, on the best music to listen to when you're feeling down. Speaking of which, I was troubled to hear that Morrissey got taken to hospital during a recent gig. Is he still ill?

Seth Godin on trolls, and an intesting post on 'Dunbars number', the natural size of a tribe before relationships start to decay. Interesting to compare and contrast with the number of Facebook friends, and the size of churches too, and recent moves in larger churches towards 'clusters' where the main unit of the church is a group of 30-60, rather than a congregation 10x that size.

Excellent Bible Sunday sermon over at Madpriest. There's even a line commending Tom Wright, which is even more of a surprise than the Pope's grenade/welcome (depending how you look at it). There's also some papal poetry.

the Benedictine Nuns, on what percentage of 'charity Christmas card' money actually goes to charity. Ht Church Mouse

Opening soon, what looks like a big-screen version of 'Around the World in 80 Faiths'

A fantastic online library of Biblical studies resources, HT Eddie Arthur.

International Nestle-Free Week

Blurb from the Facebook Group supporting this:

This year Nestlé-Free Week will take place from 26 October - 1 November.


Monitoring around the world by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds that Nestlé is the worst of the companies when it comes to breaking international standards for the marketing of baby foods adopted by the World Health Assembly.According to UNICEF: "Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute."

Nestlé-Free Week encompasses Halloween in some countries, which Nestlé is increasingly trying to exploit in the UK.You can find background information on the boycott of Nestlé over its baby milk pushing in our Nestlé-Free Zone. Plus resources for promoting the boycott. See:

The ongoing boycott focuses on Nestlé's flagship product, Nescafé coffee. We list all products from which Nestlé profits, so if you don't normally avoid the whole lot, why not do so during this week? You may surprise yourself with how many alternative products are out there.If you find that your friends and colleagues say they would boycott, but.... then challenge them to do so at least for this week.You can go directly to our boycott list (which has a UK focus, but with information on where to check for other countries) at:

We would welcome other poster designs specifically for the week, so feel free to send them to me at

You can also find items for promoting the boycott in our online Virtual Shop at:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lost Generation

can't remember if I've posted this before.

like it. HT several people on Facebook!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


the Alpha Course site is holding an online poll on God's existence. One or two atheists appear to have got there first. Ht dizzy thinks.

Oh look. A link from the globes most popular atheist website encouraging people to tip the results. Now there's a surprise. If 'Yes' votes were 20% of the total back on Oct 14th, then at a maximum there can only have been 25,000 votes cast when that link was put up. It's now 165k. Make of that what you will. They don't seem to allow repeat voting now on the site, but it's a bit late for that.

A 'Christian Country?' BNP rhetoric and reality.

According to the BNP themselves, 3,000 people have registered to be signed up as members following Question Time. Unsurprisingly, their site is getting way more hits than those of any other political party at the moment – Alexa rankings are proudly displayed at the bottom of it. A poll carried out since the programme found that 22% of those surveyed would ’seriously consider’ voting for the BNP.

Some of that may be Brits siding with the underdog, as we traditionally do, but there’s nothing to be gained by simply dismissing these figures. As the BBC report puts it more than half of those polled said they agreed or thought the party had a point in speaking up for the interests of indigenous, white British people.” Baroness Warsi made the point during the debate that there was more to the BNP vote than disillusionment over expenses: “there are people who feel the pace of change is too fast.”

A Christian Country?
Nick Griffin referred to the UK as a ‘Christian country’ several times during the debate. Do a search for ‘Christian’ on the BNP site, and most of it is articles against Islam and political correctness where that impinges on the church. It’s a defensive statement of cultural identity (’we don’t want Islam’) mre than a positive one of religious identity. ‘Christian country’ is a piece of branding, the language of resistance, looking back to where Britain has come from, and trying to hold on to it. Christian groups have made it clear that Griffin speaks only for the BNP when he seeks to portray them as defenders of the faith.

Britain is in a transition phase: post-Christian without being non-Christian. We still have many of the institutions, but culture and personal ethics have slipped their Christian moorings for the open sea. ‘Life of Brian’ would scarcely raise a murmer now – witness recent attempts to create ‘outrage’ stories over religious imagery which, 40 years ago, wouldn’t have needed any media help in causing a storm.

But it’s not a clean break: recently two councils added 3 other religious holidays to the normal closures for Christmas and Easter. Despite relatively small numbers of Sikhs in Newham and Waltham Forest, Guru Nanaks birthday joins Eid and Diwali on the holiday list. The ensuing lively debate has caused a review of the policy.

The stated aim is, you guessed it, ‘community cohesion’. The result is often the opposite: there will no doubt be another row over ‘Winterval’ some time in the next 2 months, as Christmas is rebranded, and ‘we don’t want to offend people of other faiths’ is cited as the rationale. Result: people of other faiths are blamed for the decision. Winners: nobody. Except perhaps the BNP.

Given the use the BNP makes of ‘Christian Britain’ language, Jonathan Bartley questions whether the church should give up the ghost on trying to preserve the remnants and rhetoric of Christian identity in the UK, but I’m not sure the church should give the BNP the right of veto over the terms of debate. If the opposition starts to colonise our language, do we abandon it, or try to redeem it?

Aside from a reference to freedom of worship, there is no statement about religion or Christianity in the BNP Constitution. However a BNP leaflet from May/June this year, calls for a ‘Day of Prayer’ and attacks the Church of England for selling out. It’s since been taken offline, but points the finger at ‘Judas Archbishops’, who in the next breath, bizarrely, it calls for dialogue with. It doesn’t take much digging to find BNP members with religious views which range from the bizarre to the scandalous. But is it enough simply to dismiss them?


Back to the data at the top. Ridicule may make us feel better, and more righteous, but what else does it achieve? Whether we like it or not, the popularity of the BNP raises a host of knotty issues which our politicians have been tiptoeing round for years:

– What is the nature of British identity, and what is the place of Christian faith, and the Christian roots of our society, in that picture?

– What is the true nature of Islam? I live in Yeovil, which is almost entirely white, and went up to London for a day conference earlier this year. Westminster seemed to be swarming with police, and young Asian men with backpacks. You know, the kind you see getting onto the Tube in those CCTV videos. I was nervous, I couldn’t help it, even though I know that Al Qaeda is a crackpot minority. Can we talk in the UK about, for example, Muslims persecuting Christians in Pakistan, without it being branded as hate speech and quickly ushered offstage? When Nick Griffin quotes from the Koran, how many of us know whether those texts are foundational to Islam, or peripheral?

– Apart from appointing a few ‘Community Cohesion Officers’ at local councils, how are we dealing with immigration? If the population projections are right, we can expect 180,000 new immigrants per year for the next 20 years. It’s either that, or raise the retirement age to 80: increased life expectancy means that 15.6m people will be drawing their pension by 2033, and with a low birth rate, immigration is the only way to keep a balanced demographic.

- Without some crass ‘back to basics’ campaign, how do we have a debate between the values of the past and the values of the present? In two generations, public morality has changed out of all recognition, whether you look at race issues, the environment, or sexual ethics. There are both gains and losses. In areas like sex and culture, schools are encouraged not to teach a set of beliefs/morals, but to promote an informed choice. The continued epidemic of broken families, and the stubborn persistence of racism, show that this isn’t really working. Is there a place for a moral framework, and in post-Christendom, where do we get that framework from?

Wrapping Up
It’s easy to dismiss the British National Party and what they stand for, and it would be wrong to let the BNP tail wag the dog of the British body politic (sorry, metaphor decay is setting in here). Most of the liberal chatterati can’t understand how anyone could support Nick Griffin. But until we start to understand their appeal, and start addressing some of these questions, British soil will remain a fertile place for the BNP.

this article is cross-posted from Touching Base, a regular column at the Wardman Wire.

on the same topic, different angle, but well worth a read, is John Richardsons piece today.

Is it Safe?

Made me wonder what other protection mechanisms we have: humour, scepticism, labelling, anonymity, or just not overtly committing ourselves to any particular viewpoint.

There's perhaps another group who are standing in front of the Bible, swords drawn, 'protecting' it from the threat of misinterpretation or woolliness.

Might be an interesting homegroup exercise: draw a picture of your relationship with the Bible. I remember doing a similar thing with a group, asking them to draw a picture of their relationship with God. One person drew themselves in a bunker, surrounded by barbed wire, all the defences up and running. It was a great joy a few years later to help with his baptism.

Cartoon from the mighty ASBO Jesus.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do our Supermarkets Pay Suppliers a Living Wage?

The answer is probably 'no'. A new report just out highlights what high street brands are doing (or, to be more precise, not doing) to ensure that workers further back in the supply chain are paid properly.

Lets Clean Up Fashion 2009 has a summary of the state of the High Street, and a brand-by-brand breakdown of how the big names are responding to the challenge of doing justice by their workforce.

from the Introduction:
Since 2006, when our first Clean Up Fashion Report was produced, the world has changed.

Then, the consumer was king and the global economy was riding high. Now, the credit crunch has taken the sparkle from the high street – and led to some household names disappearing
from UK towns and cities (and from this report).

Workers and consumers in the UK have been feeling the pinch and turning to the low cost retailers to help cut their monthly budgets. It’s not just in the UK that workers are suffering the effects of the credit crunch: in countries from Cambodia to Turkey, Bangladesh to Honduras factories are closing and workers are losing even the paltry salaries afforded them by the garment industry. Those that have managed to keep their jobs are facing an increasingly insecure future as a result of economic and environmental crises.

The scandalous truth is that the majority of workers in the global fashion industry rarely earn more than two dollars a day in an industry worth over £36 billion a year in the UK alone. Many have to work excessive hours just to get this meagre amount and have no possibility to earn wages needed to properly feed, clothe, house and educate their families.

...For ten years brands have been promising both workers and consumers that living wages will be paid, despite evidence to the contrary. Workers have been told to wait while brands work out what a living wage is and how to make sure they don’t have to pay the cost. Consumers have been told not to worry – brands care and are doing the best they can. The problem is their best isn’t good enough and workers can’t wait any longer.

Whilst I'm here, on other business:
- good to see Cranmer is back, I was getting worried
- waiting to see the small print. It may be a mixed blessing for Anglo-Catholics. Wonder if FCA saw that coming? Best commentary by far (as always) comes from the Beaker Folk.
- very good sermon on thankfulness by Alison at our church on Sunday, listen online here. Slightly fuzzy, but good stuff.

Defender of the Faith?

Rather strange, and very disconcerting, that Nick Griffin was the only panellist promoting 'Christian values' on Question Time tonight. When I say 'Christian Values', I'm just quoting him, it's not what most of the rest of us mean by 'Christian Values', as the Evangelical Alliance have pointed out very strongly.

But I was trying to remember the last time a Question Time panellist specifically mentioned the Christian faith as a source of inspiration. If this is politicians 'doing God', then maybe Alastair Campbell was right.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Future of the Church of England

There are days when being the Bishop of Bath and Wells is a tough job. Last week Peter Price gave a lecture in Wells Cathedral on 'the Future of the Church of England: the Next 25 Years'. Prophetically, he opened it with this:

There are few moments of regret in a bishop’s life, but agreeing to this somewhat catch all title for a lecture has been one of mine! Its somewhat disparate title requires me from the beginning to appeal to the Higher Power for grace and forgiveness. Ken Dodd was once asked whether he could make God laugh, and he responded, ‘Yes, tell him your plans.’

Attempting to prophesy the future of the Church of England, let alone the Anglican Communion, Christian churches and other faith traditions is to risk God’s hollow laugh.

It's an interesting read despite all that: he speaks of the 'half a revolution' of Vatican 2, and challenges the church to look outwards to the world and the poor, and not inwards to its own debates about sexuality and women bishops.

Another snippet:

The years following the Vatican Council were heady times. Two of those present going on to be elected pope, Karol Wojtyla and Josef Ratzinger, John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict respectively. Despite some opposition, much energy was expended and expectations were raised of a new church vibrant with the possibility of a humanity and a planet finding its true purpose.

But, and it seems there is always a but, in McCulloch’s words Vatican 2 was only ‘half a revolution.’ Key among the areas which it failed to address were the issues of the role of women, contraception and celibacy. Perhaps the hidden agenda of what was not tackled was that of patriarchy, dominance of men.

Here in a sense we come full circle, back to the present realities of not only the Roman Church, but also the Anglican Church, and at this particular moment, the Church of England. For the issue of women in leadership, particularly as bishops is once again a hot potato. Conservatives and Catholics within the Church of England find themselves often in strange juxtaposition with Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching on the ‘headship’ issue in relation to women.

Even more of a juxtaposition now...... but the key passage is on pages 7-8

It seems to me we have a choice at this moment in history. Either we face inwards and increasingly narrow the focus of our lenses on the minutiae of whatever we perceive as ‘deal breakers.’ Or we face outwards and have a radical change of heart towards the priorities determined by the plight of the planet and its people. We cannot do both. To do the latter will need moral imagination.

I may blog at some stage about this weeks Vatican manoeverings. But actually there are far more important things going on in the church, and in the world. In the grand scheme of things, how much does it really matter if a few dozen priests and a few hundred worshippers decide to become semi-detached Roman Catholics? Stick a couple of zeroes on the end if you want, it's still nowhere near the billions in poverty, the 800 million without clean water, the number of chronically depressed people in the UK right now, or pretty much any other indicator of human need and suffering you choose.

We love the intrigue, I'm not sure God does. I'm with my Bishop on this one.

Resources for Mission & Ministry with Older People

Just put this together for my Deanery, so it might be useful for someone. The population study released yesterday focused on immigration figures: 180k a year boosting the population to over 70 million by 2033. But there's another story: the number of pensioners is going to rise to over 15 million by 2033, from 9 million in 2005. The number of over-85's will treble to over 3 million. We probably need net immigration to keep a balance of ages across the population.

We tend to take older people for granted in the church, and agonise about reaching the young, when many churches (and the majority of Anglican churches) are in a much better position to connect with older people than with younger folk. Here in Somerset, there are more over-60's than under-20's, we employ childrens workers but how many churches have a Seniors worker?

Update: had a call this morning from someone who wanted to do more for the isolated elderly living alone and struggling on a fixed income. Having only put this together yesterday, I was struck by the timing! A God moment.

Resources for Work With Over-60s.

a) Books/leaflets
- A Mission Shaped Church for Older People, jointly published with the Leveson Centre, available for £10 from the Leveson Centre (see below). An excellent 80 page study with material on age awareness and mission to older people, and a substantial ‘ideas’ section on everything from dementia to outreach. Lots of material which could be used in training and resourcing lay people.

- ‘People try to Put us Down’, Encounters on the Edge study of mission with over-60’s, published in 2008 by the Sheffield Centre/Church Army. Available from The Sheffield Centre Wilson Carlile Centre 50 Cavendish Street Sheffield S3 7RZ Telephone: 0114 272 7451 or online from

b) Charities/Organisations
1. The Outlook Trust: The Wycliffe Centre, Horsleys Green, High Wycombe, Bucks, HP14 3XL Tel: 01494 485222 Email: A mission agency specialising in work with older people. They’ve recently produced a DVD on how to do ‘Holiday at Home’ events.

2. The Leveson Centre Temple Balsall, Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands B93 0AN Tel 01564 778022
Email: Wide range of conferences, resources and publications. Here’s their index – in some of these areas there are literally dozens of bits of research, publications, papers etc.

•Age discrimination
•Ageing in the countryside
•Ageing policy
•Ageing research
•Christian Council on Ageing Dementia Group
•End-of-life issues
•Ethnic elders
•Housing options
•Ilness in old age
•Leveson Centre publications
•Long-term care
•Older people and religious organisations
•Quality of life in old age
•Related organisations
•Spiritual needs of older people
•Welfare, benefits and pensions
•Worship and older people

3. The Church Army: lots of material. including
- Discovering Faith in Later Life: research papers by Mike Collyer focusing on particular ministries to older people, e.g. residential homes, ‘Holiday at Home’ events, church for the SAGA generation etc. Free to download.
- Information Bulletin: comes out every 2-3 months, brief articles on new research, training, conferences, resources and ideas for work with seniors. Free to download.
- Links to Grandparenting Forums and a range of other charities working with the elderly.
- ‘88 Ways for older people to enjoy their ministry’ Ideas paper from Mike Collyer with a whole range of ideas for involving older people in fruitful ministry in the church.

50 services for use in Care homes: worship ideas for care homes – main celebrations, seasonal and biblical themes, hymn choices etc.

Senior alpha is being developed for care and nursing homes.

Waiting for God: Ideas for mission and outreach among the elderly’ booklet produced by the Diocese of Peterborough, available from 01604 887000 or Brief, encouraging, and with short summaries of things to learn and questions to ask.

A cut and paste of all of the above (if you put the Leveson Centre list into 2 columns) will fit on an A4 sheet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Blue Christmas' service

Simple Massing Priest has posted a Blue Christmas liturgy used for Christmas '08, together with reflections on how the service went. The idea is a Christmas service for those who find that time of year difficult or depressing, and who seek an act of worship which isn't resolutely upbeat and jolly.

I know it's far too early for Christmas, but if this idea does spark anyone off, at least you've got time to plan it in!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nothing British: campaign launch.

Recieved today:

War heroes speak out against the BNP

Nothing British launches today (Tuesday 20th October) a campaign by veterans to reclaim the honour of Britain's Armed Forces from the British National Party.

You can find the campaign at, watch the videos on our YouTube channel, or follow on facebook and twitter.

In an internet blitz of videos, a number of war heroes describe their anger that the BNP seeks to use the public's warm feelings towards Britain's military to promote the politics of racism and extremism. The veterans call on fellow ex-servicemen to sign their petition.

The campaign is accompanied by a hard-hitting report with a foreword by Charles Moore (Chairman of Policy Exchange) which describes the BNP's efforts to use military rhetoric, insignia and memorabilia in their party political propaganda. The high profile veterans behind the campaign include:-

Andy McNab DCM MM. Ex-SAS commando and Iraq War veteran.
Colonel Tim Collins OBE. Ex-SAS commando and Iraq War veteran.
Simon Weston OBE. Falklands War veteran.
Nicholas Soames MP. Veteran cavalryman and grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.

Top Brass supporters have signed a letter of support which condemns the BNP. "We call on all those who seek to hijack the good name of Britain's military for their own advantage to cease and desist," write the Generals:-

General The Lord Guthrie GCB, LVO, OBE, DL.
General Sir Mike Jackson GCB, CBE, DSO, DL.
General Sir Richard Dannatt GBC, CBE, MC.
Major-General Patrick Cordingley DSO.

James Bethell, Director of Nothing British, said:-

"People are fed up with the BNP using the honour of Britain's Armed Services and the memory of fallen heroes to promote the politics of racism and extremism".

In his foreword, Charles Moore says:-

"Almost everything the BNP does is somehow linked to the commemoration of fallen heroes, evokes the spirit of the Blitz, condemns the broken Covenant and gripes about foreign wars.
"It is a deliberate strategy to exploit warm feelings felt towards the Armed Services by the British public, particularly the sort of traditionally-minded families that provide the rank and file of the Services.
"And it's working. The European Election campaign - branded "The Battle for Britain" - saw the BNP win two significant electoral victories with nearly one million votes.
"The danger to Britain is that the BNP's poisonous brand of racism, segregation and intolerance will worm its way into the fabric of British life.
"The danger for the British military is that they will inadvertently provide a leg-up at home for the kind of fascism that so many of our dead and wounded fought in foreign battlefields. This will damage the reputation of our armed services."

Notes :
"There is nothing British about the BNP", is a campaign against the politics of racism and division set up by James Bethell and Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome.

It aims to promote the gentle British values of tolerance, fair-play and respect for one another and seeks to address the frustrations and concerns of ordinary, hard-working people living in today's Britain.

Update: the BNP has responded by comparing the generals with Nazi war criminals. Words fail me.

Operation Christmas Child - a picture of joy

This is doing the rounds on Facebook, fantastic. If you've ever sent one of those shoeboxes, this is what happens when it gets to the other end. It almost doesn't matter what's inside it! (though I guess a mouldy half-eaten bap might be a bit of a let-down).

According to their Facebook page, Operation Christmas Child sent 1.2 million shoeboxes last year. Brilliant.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friends, Followers, Comments, and Community

Taking a straw poll among my Facebook 'friends', I gave them the following options:

who are your Facebook 'friends'?
a) People you've actually met
b) 'a', plus people you've had a lot of online interaction with
c) anyone who asks you
d) other?

'a' seems to be the overwhelming favourite, with a few b's thrown in. I tend strongly towards a, plus a bit of b. I've had a number of 'friend' requests from people who I've not met, but had some online correspondence & exchanges with, and it's sometimes hard to know which side of the line we're on. Is an e-friend the same as a pen friend?

The Twitter notion of 'followers' is much more straightforward: block pornographers and people who want to sell you stuff, and everyone else can join the party.

In both mediums, it seems to be more personal stuff which moves people to respond. Tweet about cricket, and nobody cares. Mention a suspected hernia, and suddenly several people have offered encouragement and prayer. I even had a go at planning a school assembly via Twitter this morning, and it worked quite well!

On the blogosphere, the same thing seems to happen. Two blogs I regularly visit have had posts about personal suffering in the last few weeks. The comments threads are bursting with good wishes, and shared humanity seems to transcend whether the commenters normally agree with the blogger or not.

In one case, the blogger posts under an assumed name, and blogs 'in character'. Working out how to pray for them has been a bit weird, and though the commenters have rallied round in scores, there's a real sense of powerlessness. If this was someone in the 'real world' who we knew, then there would be phone calls, and concrete offers of support. As it's a virtual persona, all we can do is leave comments, and hope that someone, somewhere, knows the guy for real and knows what he's going through.

I'm not even sure on the etiquette of linking to them, whether that will promote 'grief tourism', or promote some heartening examples of support and grace on the blogosphere. It's an area where the 'rules of engagement' are still evolving: in face to face encounters, we've been honing our sense of etiquette and what's acceptable for centuries, online we're starting from scratch, with the added problem that words aren't anything like so effective as communication in person.

The Power of Fun

These viral ads are doing the rounds

and illustrate the power of fun to change behaviour. If you can make the right thing the fun thing, people will do it. Not because it's the right thing, but because it's more enjoyable. I'm sure some people followed Jesus because it was more fun with him than without him. Of course it was.

Having stumbled across these (Ht Holy Heteroclite, where you can find another great example, more thoughts here), it then struck me that I've been blogging about this already. Marcus Brigstocke made thinking about God fun in his 'God Collar' routine, and our Cafe Service made raising money fun by giving people some cash up front, and a challenge people could rise to. (I heard of someone the other day who made a special donation to the fund, and then found an unexpected extra on their pay slip a couple of days later. God is nobody's debtor).

Of course, discipleship isn't entertainment. But it can be play, as well as work and rest.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Boost for 'Ethical' Stem Cells

BBC report today on a new advance in adult stem cell research:

US researchers have found a way to dramatically increase the harvest of stem cells from adult tissue.

It is a practical step forward in techniques to produce large numbers of stem cells without using embryos.

Using three drug-like chemicals, the team made the procedure 200 times more efficient and twice as fast, the Nature Methods journal reported. It is hoped stem cells could one day be widely used to repair damaged tissue in diseases and after injuries.

The more can be done with adult stem cells, the better. The creation of embryos primarily to use them as bit parts for treatment of others is a major ethical problem, and from what I gather, despite it being approved by Parliament last year, there isn't that much funding for embryo stem cell research. If the same therapies can be found through using adult stem cells instead, then that seems to be a win-win.

How to Worship

Thanks to Jase on Facebook for this one.

"employ the half-mast method, and spare your friend the agony"

"you can't communicate with the Lord with your eyes open, that's a rule."

We've only one session left of our Confirmation group, so there's just enough time to show them this. It would be wrong not to. Perhaps this is a leak from the revamped Alpha course?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Events: Christian Vision for Men in Yeovil, Transform Work UK

Christian Vision for Men (CVM) are having an event in Yeovil next month, here's some blurb:

Saturday 14th November 2009
9.30am - 4.30pm
Venue: The Gateway, Yeovil Community Church, Addlewell Lane, Yeovil BA20 1QN

Men's Conference in Somerset & Dorset

Carl Beech a Baptist Minister, became a follower of Jesus at the age of 18. Having had a burning ambition to join the armed forces, he distinctly heard God call him to fight a different sort of battle. After studying a degree in engineering he worked variously as a financial consultant, church planter, youth worker, and senior pastor of a large multi-congregational church. He now heads up CVM, a national movement focused on introducing men to Jesus and equipping the church for the task.

Andy Drake was born and raised in Australia and has worked as a dustman, labourer, computer programmer, airstrip builder, evangelist and Baptist Minister. He planted a youth congregation at the age of 18 and has helped lead three churches over the last 15 years. Married to Sophie, who is training as a Clinical Psychologist, Andy now works for CVM as their Director of Evangelism.

Seminars on:
Gearing Church up for Men
Winning Men
Living it out

On the same day Transform Work UK hold their national 1-day conference in Brum

Has the 21st century workplace become a no-God area, populated by cynics, with Christians often feeling under siege? Or are you passionate about your work and feel you can make a difference?
Whatever your experience, we promise that this Conference will help to envision, encourage and energise you. Speakers and workshops will give you practical tools and tips, drawing on real success stories. This event is a must for anyone wanting to be more effective and fulfilled at work.

Keynote Addresses:
● Chan Abraham, Chief Executive Luminus Group and Founder of Leadership International
● David L’Herroux, Executive Director UCB
● Caroline Spelman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Workshop choices include: Alpha for your Workplace, Chaplaincy, Work / Life Balance, The Effective Christian Workplace Group, The multi-faith workplace, Diversity & Equality, Christian Spirituality, Leadership & Mentoring, Recruitment & Retention for Professional Groups, Christian Groups – The Law, and Redundancy.

For Church of England Types there's a morning in Wells the same day (14th Nov) with Paul Bayes, national Mission and Evangelism Adviser, looking at Fresh Expressions and ecumenical mission. Details not on the website yet, but just ring 01749 670777 if you're interested, or drop me a comment.

And finally, there are still spaces on the Mission 21 church planting conference the following week in Bath. November is clearly a good time to have conferences: grim weather, too early to Christmas shop, all the best TV being saved for the Christmas schedules. Anyone planning to go to any of these?

The Volunteer Dilemma

Beyond Relevance picks up on a scenario which may be familiar to anyone working with volunteers, whether in church or not:

Standards are the greatest tool for training your team and they are, for the most part, missing in the church today.

Why? I think we feel so grateful for Bob (the guy who volunteers to do the PowerPoint), that on his first day, we do our best to make sure we do not upset him. After all, what if he stops coming? Then what are we going to do? No, what we will do is give him the least amount of information about his duty we can (as we do not have time to really train him) and then we will put up with him not doing it perfectly since he is so faithful (of course he has no real idea what perfection to us is), until one day we get fed up and fire him from his post and crush his spirit by telling how he "never" does it right, when we never trained him what right is.

Helpful piece, on how you raise the standard of what happens with your volunteers without imposing lots of rules, or everyone getting really frustrated.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prayer for a Community

Love this prayer, composed by Jonny Baker.

may the god who is community
be with us as we seek to be a community

may god bless our dreams
and may god shatter our dreams

may god help us to be real
and to find depth in weakness and brokenness

may god help us to face and grow through conflict
rather than pretend by being nice

may we look at each other through soft eyes
and truly respect each other as human beings

may god help us let go of control
and the need to fix one another

may god help us discover we are needy in our own souls
and give attention to our own hearts

may god grant us the gift of an extraordinary love
that flows from the heart of god
that covers a multitude of wrongs

Living on £5 a day

MP Andy Reed is taking the 'Simplify Challenge' and attempting to live on £5 a day. He's blogging about it at the same time, which makes interesting reading. Here's some of what he had to say about food:

We have always tried to plan our meals so that we only buy food we need each week. But again this looks half hearted compared to the need to plan in far more detail and with a strict budget. There are so many little extras that now have disappeared. I saw the figures this week for the amount of food we throw away as a nation. I's a scandal and so planning will remain central to the way we do things.

The timing is hard too. We have had some good crops from the garden this year but sadly they are all coming to an end. Our greenhouse has been particularly good for tomatoes an cucumbers and we had the last of the french beans and rhubarb over the weekend.

So ironically for me food will be a more central part of my simplified life. I thought it was going to be all about reducing my consumption but wondering how to afford the next meal puts EVERYTHING into perspective!

To put this into perspective, an income of £5 a day still puts you in the top 900 million people in the world in terms of income, or the top 15%.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Use Your Church Noticeboard

superb idea, done for a Baptist church in the US, via Church Marketing Sucks.

I'm not sure if this is one of those which only works if you stand in one place. Our church is by a main road, so we'd maybe need a sign with a pair of eyes that would 'follow' cars being driven at roughly 20 miles an hour. Or we could go really hi-tech, and get a number-plate reader, and have a sign which announced 'driver of AD55PTL, God wants you to cycle!' or something.

Bit like the talking ads in Minority Report, but without Tom Cruise, and in Yeovil.

We'd have to be careful not to get done by Lambeth Council for talking about God in something higher than a whisper.

What is it with Buses and Religion?

The Churches Advertising Network is hoping to get 2,000 of these

onto bus shelters in time for Christmas. More about the campaign here. Churches are being encouraged to buy a bus stop for £100, and CAN will do the rest. It'll be interesting to see if there's a parody of the ads by the agnostibus crew, in the slightly embarassing way Christians picked up on last years bus ads. They do have a book to promote, after all.

This cracking bit of art was around last year, but the most excellent 30-second nativity overshadowed it a bit, so I'm glad it's being recycled. It'll also fit perfectly with one of the carol services I'm involved with, at Yeovil College, on a theme of Poverty and Christmas.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

'A sickening misuse of the gift of life'

Outstanding piece in the Times today, about the hideousness of celebrity culture:

The centuries of prattle, of air time and screen time, the miles of column inches are a sickening misuse of the gift of life, of health and adequate nutrition, of freedom from oppression, of the access we now have to the world of knowledge and the arts. They are stolen from thought about, or discussion of, things that are truly important or worthwhile; fighting poverty, disease and the iniquities and injustice of the world; the profound joy afforded by literature and the arts; questions about the meaningful purpose of life.

The celebrity culture is a black hole sucking up light. It is not only a manifestation of the cretinisation or tabloidisation of our culture but further cretinises it.

Celebrity culture spreads like a stain. It engulfs even those whose fame is rooted in real achievement or real responsibility. As the empty are valued, so the valuable are emptied. They are treated as if they were as vacuous as pop idols. Scientists, artists and politicians become defined in the collective consciousness not by the serious, complex matters that they deal with or by their real achievements but, increasingly, by their sex lives, their personal traumas, their peccadillos.

Never mind the general theory of relativity and those field equations that are one of the greatest monuments of the human intellect. What the punter wants to know is whether Einstein s****ed his dog. (my emphasis)

Comedian Stewart Lee, critiquing celebrity 'books', made the point that someone who read them would end the books more stupid than when they started. Marcus Brigstocke 'alleged' on Sunday night that some atheists are atheists because they can't hold the concept 'God' in their head without their eyes glazing over. Maybe the Stupid Society is more of a problem than the Broken Society, or perhaps it's just a symptom of it. If our capacity to think and reason is broken, traded in for a pole dancer and the latest rock star implosion, then that's a serious problem.

There's probably a good book out there comparing the decline of the Roman empire with postmodern Britain, but I'm not sure I'm ready to get that depressed.

Jesus in Yarlswood, and the Economics of Sharing.

Wasn't sure whether to be heartened or depressed by yesterdays news.

A few weeks ago I tried to support a campaign for a Ugandan asylum seeker, who was deported by the UK authorities. One of the issues highlighted by the campaign was the inhumane treatment of children and families by the immigration system. A new report has found, effectively, institutionalised child abuse at Yarls Wood detention centre: infant children separated from their parents for 3 weeks, and a high rate of emotional and behavioural problems occurring in children at the centre.

Here's one summary: The report raised serious concerns over child protection issues after finding that at least 12 of the children had been separated from a main carer, two placed in detention with an adult with whom they had never lived, and one mother and her 20-month-old baby separated for three weeks during an outbreak of chicken pox.

The UK Border Agency are disputing the report, and saying it's dated, but if that's true, why would the Childrens Commissioner - following a visit just 6 months ago - be calling for the place to be sorted out?

Meanwhile, there is a campaign to change the way children of asylum seekers are treated. Matthew 25. One of them is Jesus. If the people in charge of the system knew that, would that change the way it operated?

On the plus side, following the Peace Prize that Passeth All Understanding, the Nobel Prize for Economics has gone to Elinor Ostrom, a woman studying the economics of sharing.

The findings of her research have been striking, as the Nobel committee pointed out, because they have challenged the established assumption that common property is poorly managed unless it is either regulated by government or privatised. She has shown how disparate individuals can band together and form collectives that protect the resource at hand.

That is an important message at a time when policymakers are grappling with how to cope with global warming. Again, it challenges a conventional assumption that without regulation or the action of private enterprise, no progress to change individual behaviour can be made.

about flipping time. I'm staggered at that last sentence - the 'conventional assumption' that only business or government can change individual behaviour. Thank God it's not true.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bodies Talk: the Web on Robbie Williams

There's been a lot of talk about Robbie Williams in the last few days. Too much talk in fact* Here's a round-up of some of it:

Christian Today quotes Jon from Freelance Theology : “We have a choice in the way we engage with someone like Robbie, But first we have to know what he is singing about.” Jon reckons the new single 'Bodies' is ultimately nihilistic, with a confused hotch-potch of religious ideas but ultimately its the cemetary rather than Jesus which marks the final destination. But despite that, it's a good discussion starter. Same article also picked up by Inspire.

Scribblings from My Desk notes that, in part, the lyrics are there to shock, and therefore attract extra interest. Seems to have worked! He also mentions a radio interview given by Williams In the interview I heard, Robbie confessed that although he'd been raised a Roman Catholic, he no longer knew who to pray to and perhaps the song reflects that confusion.

The Ton agrees with the confusion bit: The lyrics are all over the place with no overarching theme or smooth flow of ideas. The Blog of Kevin is worth a look, has an interesting interpretation: He wants perfection; he wants his reflection to be perfect. Not ordinary. Not mundane. But perfect. His reference to Jesus dying for him is about that – he doesn’t feel healed, perfect, restored, so what was Jesus’ death all about?

Good discussion on Wannabepriest, lots of points of view.

The jury is still out at the Worship Central forums.

There's a reference on this forum to another Williams interview (link broken) which notes:
He (Williams) says, when he wrote it George Bush was sending a lot of people to war in the name of Jesus, and being raised catholic the Jesus he he thinks he knows didn't die so that George Bush could send people to die in a needless war. And the "God save me rejection" bit is about the modern day struggle, people with body dysmorphias, anorexia, bulema, or who are not happy with their own image, have plastic surgery. And he thinks that is how people feel these days. Amen to all of that.

The X Factor performance itself has raised quite a few eyebrows itself, though it sounds like Williams was pretty strung out about it before he even got on stage. Must be a pretty nerve-racking thing to make a comeback after 3 years. Interesting that he dips out of singing 'Jesus didn't die for you' at the end. Deliberate? and that 'God bless you all' to the audience..... maybe it is a conspiracy after all.

*sorry, couldn't resist that. Prize for guessing the reference.

Review: Marcus Brigstocke 'God Collar'

Comedian Marcus Brigstocke is now well into his God Collar tour, a 1 man show with 1 main topic. As a preacher who struggles to hold people's attention for 10 minutes, I'm repeatedly struck how, through the medium of comedy, we're happy to listen to ideas and arguments being developed for a couple of hours. As long as there's a regular punchline, audiences can still think. Well over 2 hours of Brigstocke on Sunday night in Yeovil was a good workout for both the mind and the diaphragm.

And Brigstocke has certainly been thinking. "I have a God-shaped hole, but none of the available deities seem to fit." Much of the routine is about reasons not to believe - religious wars ("religion and war are like Ant and Dec, you never see them apart."), misogyny, obsession with rules, and so on. But at the same time Brigstocke is very honest about his desire to believe, and his conviction that there's something more to life than just reason ("sometimes I'd rather be happy than right"). The second half is quite personal, talking about his experience of family, children and bereavement, and the encore turned into a 30 minute Q&A session with the audience, giving Brigstocke the chance to land some precise blows on global warming and Top Gear.

It's an excellent show, if you can cope with a few crude bits. Along the way there is a pop at everyone from IPhone users to Nestle. Brigstocke is nothing if not even handed, from Muslims - "bags are for things, not people, grow up!" - to atheists "you're not cleverer than everybody else", there's something to annoy just about everyone. He points out the weirdness of agnostics who haven't really given the massive question of God any thought, and gives a superb summary of the difference between Protestants and Catholics.

There was plenty of challenging material. Noahs Ark, that famous childrens story, provided the lead in to a discussion of how many people in the Bible get killed by God. As for the rainbow as a reminder to God not to destroy the earth "if there's one thing worse than a murderous deity, it's a scatterbrained murderous deity." This is one Christians have wrestled with for centuries, ever since Marcion carved up the Bible in the second century to leave out the nasty bits.

More positively, Brigstocke spoke about 'Goodbye' (= 'God be with you') being a 'beautiful' thing, and how things like children and death are times when the God-shaped hole is more obvious. Talking of the death of his grandfather, and his best friend, Brigstocke muses on how comforting the idea of an afterlife would be, and then reminds us that this is exactly the same idea behind 9/11. Coincidentally, the comfort of an (imaginary?) afterlife is also at the root of Ricky Gervais's plot in The Invention of Lying.

Lots of other good stuff, I'm tempted to quote lots of the jokes but that would spoil it for anyone who might be tempted to catch him. I'd recommend it. It made me laugh, made me think, and makes me glad that the man behind We Are History is still going. The fact he's prepared to ruthlessly skewer Richard Dawkins probably helped! He'd done his homework on the local area too - which might have something to do with the fact he went to school in Bruton. On the downside, some pretty crude sexual references, and I'm not entirely sure that a bloke who habitually exposed himself to others is anything to admire.

As a Christian, I felt he was pretty fair about Christianity, with one or two exceptions, and most of his jokes about it were ones I wished I'd thought of first ("Christians are more obessed about gays than gays are"). He talked of having Christian friends and plenty of conversations with them, and I could believe it. This is the kind of atheist I'd be happy to have a pint with. Intelligent, fair, honest, questioning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Raise Money by Giving it Away

Around this time last month, we gave away £5 to everyone who came to our Cafe Service. That included first-time visitors, and children. The idea was to multiply the money during the next month, and then bring it back.

The challenge was to help raise £20,000 to build a new school in the Kibera slum in Kenya. Kibera is an area of 2 square kilometres, home to 1 million people. The average home is 3m x 3m (measure it out) and has an average occupancy of 5 people. The current school (pictured) is about to be knocked down to make room for a road and railway line. There'll be no compensation, and 200 kids will be without a school. In the UK it would cost £2-3million to build and equip a school for them. In Kibera, a local church has secured the land, and the cost will be a tiny fraction of what it would be here.

In September we gave away 57 envelopes, £285 in total. Yesterday, 38 of those came back, containing roughly £1300, a net gain of £1100. Cake sales, horse-naming competitions, marmalade-making, video nights, workplace collections, neighbourhood pub quizzes and home made cards, and a great sense of pride at what people had been able to achieve. Several other fundraising efforts are ongoing, including a sponsored half marathon, so I'm hoping that when it's all back in, we'll have raised £2000 or more.

This adds to roughly £500 raised at a conventional collection last week at our Harvest service towards the project. Interesting that giving money away has been up to 4 times more effective than simply asking for it!!! (though that's probably not a fair comparison! And it's not the kind of thing you can do every week).

It's amazing to see how motivated people have been, and how much they've enjoyed doing something for a good cause. Having a specific project has really helped. Two local schools are now interested in further links with the project.

Where did this all start? With one member of our congregation seeing an advert for a short-term mission trip to Africa, and deciding to have a go. She did a presentation to the church at the start of September, and everything else has kicked off since then. It's a great lesson in the power of the individual, and in creative fundraising which engages people's talents and interests.

One other trick: we gave the money away to the congregation with most 'fringe' members. Our Cafe Service has a regular congregation, but many only come to that, and nothing else. Result: most of their contacts for fundraising are outside the church, rather than inside it. That created a much bigger pool of money to fish in.

Store Wars

In case you missed it (suddenly lots of interest following the X Factor) here's my post on Robbie Williams latest offering 'Bodies', and all the religious stuff in the lyrics. Meanwhile...

"Search your peelings Cuke"

If this doesn't get your kids eating organic veg, nothing will. Love what they've done with Chewbacca and Yoda.

Review of Marcus Brigstocke's 'God Collar' show later today, saw him last night in Yeovil. V good and v provocative.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ashes Back on Free TV? Yet Another Campaigning Triumph

Great news today that the Ashes may be returning to free-to-air TV. I'm sure all the credit for this must fall to the 27 members of 'Lets Have the 2013 Ashes on Free TV' Facebook group, so thankyou to all of you. It's amazing what you can accomplish with a small band of dedicated followers.

At this stage it's only a recommendation that the Ashes be restored to the 'Crown Jewels' list of sports. However, the Telegraph are pretty confident that it will happen, as the government seems sympathetic. A senior government source told the Sunday Telegraph: "It's a no-brainer. This is one thing we can do that chimes in with the wishes of millions of voters."

It would be an interesting call if it came down to a Cameron goverment to make the final decision. Wonder if the Sun might get a little bit more hostile if the Tories take away some of Mr Murdochs toys? However, I'm sure Gordon Brown will be delighted to make the decision himself, should be a much easier call than deciding whether to have an election.

Provisional score: General Public 1 Murdoch Empire 0

What are we singing about?

Came across this on Backburner, very funny.

If this reminds you of another similar clip, it's probably this one.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ricky Gervais on God etc.

5 minute interview with Ricky Gervais here, connected to his film 'The Invention of Lying'. The film is about a society where no-one can lie (like Liar Liar in negative), and Gervais's character tells the first lie. He goes on to invent a Man in the Sky - the film is an atheist polemic as well as a comedy. Hoping to catch it next week - anyone seen it?

Interesting what he says about God, heaven etc. - "I wish there was a God" "Do you think there is a possibility that there is a God" "No." ....."I think there's a logical, a biological explanation for everything."

World Mental Health Day

is today. A story:

A cry for help
Dear friends. My husband has suffered from an anxiety disorder all his life, this has had a massive impact on our life together, I now don't know how to keep going. The problems have left me isolated and rejected by lots of people, it's exhausting and lonely living with someone who spends long periods mentally absent.

I'm so bruised and tired now, I know I'm becoming unwell so please pray for me, that I can find God's will for me, and please pray for my husband, that he might be able to be a mature, giving, thoughtful part of our marriage, and pray for healing from the anxiety and all that brings it on. I think I need to find a supportive friend, who will pray with me and show me a little care and understanding.

Mental illness is a silent epidemic: when the Conservatives annouced their reforms to incapacity benefit, how many people were aware that 34% of those on IB have a mental or behavioural illness? Why is it silent? Because of the kind of nonsense we got over Gordon Brown and whether he was taking anti-depressants. The social stigma over mental illness makes it hard for people to seek support for fear of being branded 'mad', 'loony' etc.

Yet all the time it's getting worse - a survey of young people published earlier this week found that 2/3 of them feel stressed or anxious at least once a week, with many of these feeling it on a daily basis.

Good to see that the BBC is giving this lots of profile today. From my diocese there's a Resource page here with links to stories and prayers.

The nearest we got to a mention during the party conference season was David Cameron mentioning what it was like during his bereavement. Yes mental health is a byproduct of other things - if you have a job, you'll be less stressed about money, if you have a loving family, you'll have more support etc. But there are massive questions of culture and society which need to be asked if we're going to have a country that's hospitable to mental health, rather than toxic to it. I don't sense that many people are asking those questions.

a poem

Stigma, Stigmata
I cried
but not a tear was shed,
I died
but wasn’t dead.

Stigma, stigmata
hung on a cross of ignorance,
by society,
all the evidence.
Tried in a court
of social hate,
by a jury,
without debate.

For the naive and blind,
against prejudice
We stand,
as lunatics,
in equalities land.

There’s a snake
at the altar,
venom and malice,
Our minds
the receptacles
poison chalice.

I cried
but not a tear was shed,
I died
but wasn’t dead.

Friday, October 09, 2009

'Back to World Sunday' - artists impression

Whole books have been written trying to explore this one dilemma. Thanks to ASBO Jesus.I suggested somewhere that instead of 'Back to Church Sunday' in 2010 we should have 'Back to World Sunday', cancel our church services, and just encourage Christians to mingle.

Though it's not an either/or. Perhaps we should alternate every other year.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

David Cameron's speech: the Moral Compass Edit

Just to be even handed, here's a filletted version of David Camerons speech to the Conservative Conference today, having done Gordon Brown's last week. For the full text go here, video here.

1. Moral themes
- Responsibility, which was a repeated refrain for family, economics, government, society at all levels.

- Defending the poor and vulnerable. Social justice was mentioned from a Conservative platform, which for those of us born before 1980 is quite remarkable in itself.

- Family and community as the core of society, not government.

- Standard Conservative stuff on mistrust of big government, and trust of individuals. But there was more on responsibility too: everyone's question will be how this commitment to 'freedom' and 'trust' won't just end up with the greed and division of the 1980's all over again.

- Family, marriage, & childrens need for love, security and discipline, and the need for a change of culture around children. I personally was thrilled to find a political leader willing to say 'we've got our culture wrong', whilst recognising that you can't just change culture from the top down.

- Generosity: interesting to find Cameron using the line 'to be British is to be generous', and applying that to ring-fencing of the aid budget. There was also a nod to fair trade.

- A green economy and society, led by scientific innovation.

2. Spiritual reference points
Cranmer and Paul Woolley have already commented on this, but here's a brief summary:

- Martin Luther Kings 'I have a dream' speech, which is a pretty audacious reference point. The speech kicked off with talk of 'the view from the summit', and ended with Cameron telling us 'what I can see' from the summit.

- Lau Tzu: Cameron's final flourish was "when we look back we will not say that the government made it happen.. but that the businesswoman, the teacher, the father made it happen - you made it happen." Compare and contrast the Tao:
with the best leaders,
When the task is accomplished,
The work completed,
The people all remark:
We have done it ourselves.

- The wisdom literature and prophets: which insist 'defend the rights of the poor and needy'. DC's version "it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest"

- Jesus. Cameron said "the insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?" This hints at Mark 8 on gaining the world and losing your soul, and Woolley notes that this picks up on the Sermon on the Mount.

- Ian Dury 'there aren't many reasons to be cheerful'. It's a bit bizarre to find Dury and High School Musical referenced in the same speech (yes, we are still all in this together) but hey, that's the modern Conservative party.

3. Thoughts:
Another serious speech, when Cameron had a go at Labour it wasn't knockabout, but an angry denunciation of Labour's failure of the poor. Whether enough of us have forgotten about the Conservatives failures in the same department is another issue. The closest we got to a reference to Thatcher was some words about Margaret Tebbitt.

I thought there was a lot of moral and ethical language in Browns speech last week, but Cameron has outstripped that, and there was a lot of vision and values on display today. It struck a balance between grim reality and realistic hope, though whether the 'I have a dream' references will be seized on - 'You're no Martin Luther King' - may be a hostage to fortune. But what would you rather have, optimism or cynicism?

Of the three speeches, this one outscored the others on recognising that there aren't just issues of law, economics and politics, but issue of culture too. However we still don't know how much Camerons 'character, temperament and judgement' have really been tested. Yes he's had a horrendous year in his family life, and to be deliving a speech like this just a few months later is an achievement in itself. But, like any vote for an untested government, a vote for Cameron will be a step of faith.

David Cameron '09, The Moral Compass Edit.
We will be tested. I will be tested...

...The view from the summit will be worth it....

...When such a big part of your life suddenly ends nothing else — nothing outside — matters. It's like the world has stopped turning and the clocks have stopped ticking. And as they slowly start again, weeks later, you ask yourself all over again: do I really want to do this? You think about what you really believe and what sustains you....

...My beliefs. I am not a complicated person. I love this country and the things it stands for.

That the state is your servant, never your master. Common sense and decency. The British sense of community.

I have some simple beliefs. That there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. That there is a 'we' in politics, and not just a 'me.'

Above all, the importance of family. That fierce sense of loyalty you feel for each other. The unconditional love you give and receive, especially when things go wrong or when you get it wrong. That powerful sense you have when you hold your children and there's nothing, absolutely nothing — you wouldn't do to protect them.

This is my DNA: family, community, country. These are the things I care about. They are what made me. They are what I'm in public service to protect, promote and defend....

...we are not going to solve our problems with bigger government. We are going to solve our problems with a stronger society. Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger country. All by rebuilding responsibility.... means showing that the rich will pay their share ...

...Self-belief is infectious and I want it to spread again throughout our country especially through the poorest places where Labour let hope fade away.

...the personal and social responsibility that should be the lifeblood of a strong society....

...the man who has dedicated himself to the cause of social justice and shown great courage in standing up for those least able to stand up for themselves...

...(Labour) you have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who you have let down....

...We'll start with what is most important to me – and what I believe is most important for the country — families.

I believe that a stable, loving home is the most precious thing a child can have. Society begins at home. Responsibility starts at home. That's why we cannot be neutral on this.

Now I don't live in some fantasy land where every family is happily married with 2.4 kids. Nor am I going to stand here and pretend that family life is always easy.

But by recognising marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system and abolishing the couple penalty in the benefits system, we'll help make it that little bit easier....

...Why aren't we building homes with enough room for a family to sit round a table and actually eat a meal together?...

...It's about our culture. Why do so many magazines and websites and music videos make children insecure about the way they look or the experiences they haven't even had?

And it's about our society. We give our children more and more rights, and we trust our teachers less and less. We've got to stop treating children like adults and adults like children...

...A breakdown of morality in the minds of those thugs a total absence of feeling or conscience. A breakdown in community where a neighbour is left to reach a pitch of utter misery....

...We cannot rebuild social responsibility from on high. But the least we can do the least we can do is pledge to all the people who are scared, who live their lives in fear and who can't protect themselves, … We will be there to protect you...

....To be British is to be open-minded. We don't care who you are or where you're from, if you've got something to offer then this is a place you can call home.

To be British is to be generous.

To be British is to be sceptical of authority and the powers-that-be.

And to be British is to have an instinctive love of the countryside and the natural world....

...Yes, we need to change the way we live. But is that such a bad thing? The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?

Yes, we have to put our faith in technologies. But that is not a giant leap. Just around the corner are new green technologies, unimaginable a decade ago, that can change the way we live, travel, work....

...Let's work together on the things where the EU can really help, like combating climate change, fighting global poverty and spreading free and fair trade.

...what holds society together is responsibility, and that the good society is a responsible society. That's what I'm about – that's what any government I lead will be about.

...I know that whatever plans you make in Opposition, it's the unpredictable events that come to dominate a government. And it's your character, your temperament and your judgment, not your policies and your manifesto – that really make the difference.

...there aren't many reasons to be cheerful. But there are reasons to believe. Yes it will be a steep climb. But the view from the summit will be worth it. Let me tell you what I can see.

I see a country where more children grow up with security and love because family life comes first. I see a country where you choose the most important things in life — the school your child goes to and the healthcare you get. I see a country where communities govern themselves — organising local services, independent of Whitehall, a great handing back of power to people.

I see a country with entrepreneurs everywhere, bringing their ideas to life — and life to our great towns and cities. I see a country where it's not just about the quantity of money, but the quality of life — where we lead the world in saving our planet. I see a country where you're not so afraid to walk home alone, where you're safe in the knowledge that right and wrong is restored to law and order.

I see a country where the poorest children go to the best schools not the worst, where birth is never a barrier.

...And when we look back we will say not that the government made it happen … not that the minister made it happen … but the businesswoman made it happen … the police officer made it happen … the father made it happen …the teacher made it happen.

You made it happen.