Friday, April 30, 2010

'How to Live a Simple Life' St. Francis meets Indiana Owen-Jones

Rev. Peter Owen-Jones attempt to live on next to nothing is finally showing next week. 'How to Live a Simple Life' airs next Friday at 9pm, a direct clash with Ashes to Ashes, which is a bit of a pain. It sounds like typical PoJ stuff - find something a bit off the wall and throw yourself completely into it. Except he's trying to live like a 13th century monk in 21st century East Sussex (corrected - thanks Banksy). Full marks for trying, should be a fascinating series. Is it still possible to live simply, or do social structures no longer allow it?

Some of the blurb
Anglican priest, Peter Owen Jones, goes back to basics to try and live a simple and more meaningful life, inspired by the teachings of St Francis of Assisi, for a major new BBC Two series – How To Live A Simple Life.

The series was filmed over an eight-month period in Pete's small Sussex country village of Firle. Like millions of others Pete felt caught up in a pointless frenzy of spending.

St Francis was inspired by Jesus' sermon in the Gospel to live a life of "voluntary poverty" as the key to deeper relations with both nature and your fellow being.

Pete must grow his own crops, raise chickens, barter his skills for cuts of meat and even live without money.

He has to throw himself at the mercy of his community in the village of Firle, and ultimately at the mercy of total strangers, as he takes to the road without money, begging for food and accommodation.

After living a simple life, will Pete find that real meaning comes from helping one another rather than from mindless spending?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clegg "I'm not a man of faith, sometimes I very much wish I was"

Despite the effective banning of politicians from the main BBC news bulletins, to give the pundits more time to stare meaningfully into the camera, there are some excellent bits of interviewing and journalism going on in the bowels of the Beeb.

One was last nights Eddie Mair interview with Nick Clegg on PM (starts 16:20 in). After leading on Gordon Browns gaffe yesterday, Mair asks (17:10 in) "Why don't you believe?" a question right out of the blue, and Clegg is first taken aback, and his eventual response is unusually revealing. He talks about spirituality as something 'which makes us human', that religion isn't something he's closed off to, and it sounds like several members of his family are committed Christians.

He also talks about wanting the disestablishment of the CofE, and Mair quizzes him about how his Liberal principles play out in allowing religious expression - e.g. burkas, wearing crosses in the workplace, Bed and Breakfast admissions policies etc. Clegg talks about allowing the 'personal expression' of faith, but there are clearly places where liberal tolerance runs up against intolerance of what's percieved to be (sorry) 'bigotry'.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Baptist's Mission Newsletter Just Out

I've a lot of time for the Baptist Union mission department. Not only do they have some excellent and concise resources online, but their bimonthly mission newsletter is great, a swathe of events, training, ideas, resources for Fathers Day, world cup, children, small churches, etc. etc. all in one document.

I must confess that I find this much more helpful than the piecemeal CofE system of having a mission department in 43 separate dioceses, plus one in Church House, with a real mixture of quality across the board. I noted last year that there were plenty of resources produced by one Diocese that could easily be linked to from another, to save duplicated effort. If I get round to revisiting that survey of Dicoesan websites this summer, we'll see if any of the ecclesiastical iron curtains that surround Dioceses have been broken through. What are the chances?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Nothing Else, Name Me

Had lunch last week with someone who used to be a county councillor for one of the political parties. I mentioned that in some of our local election literature (guess who from), it refers to 'Tory' without naming the candidate, whilst referring to its own person by name several times.

He responded that one of the rules of campaigning where he'd been councillor was that you never referred to your opponent by name. It may make political sense, but I was quite taken aback. Naming is right at the core of creation - Adam and Eve are named to signify who they are, they are given the power of naming the creatures, and all through the Bible the names of the characters, not least of God himself, are more than mere labels, they say something deep and important about the people themselves. A name is a source of identity, revelation, personhood, dignity, value.

So to deny someone a name is dehumanising, it's a refusal to treat them as a person of equal standing with myself. To be created in God's image is to be named - singled out by our name as of unique value, singled out by our name as an indicator of our purpose, character, and hopes. At baptism we work on the 'christening' element by asking the father to name the child. That power of naming is a way of conferring identity, as an act of love, and a taking of responsibility for them.

And a political party which refuses to name, and therefore dignify, its opponent - what would they do to anyone else who dares to stand against them or disagree with them? It may be a trivial thing, but it's really bugging me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Different Kind of Banking

A couple of great community initiatives worth highlighting:

Streetbank: what Dave Walker describes sounds like the way neighbourhoods used to operate (maybe some still do?), but 'Streetbank' sounds a bit funkier than 'organised sharing'. It's a local website for lending things to one another, so slightly different from Freecycle, which is a local website for giving things away instead of throwing them away.

Cardiff Food Bank set up a year ago to provide food to people who'd otherwise go without (a recent visiting speaker told us of a home visit to a family where all the food in the house was a tub of margarine and a bottle of ketchup). There's something similar in Yeovil, the Lords Larder, which works by collecting food from collection points around the town (churches, businesses etc. ) and then giving out food parcels to local households (nearly 2000 people last year). The Cardiff setup does something similar, but also goes straight to the supermarkets, and quite succesfully too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Latest Opinion Polls - you heard it here first....

A few polls which haven't made the headlines, courtesy of Twitter:

#Marathon 2% Sofa 98%

kouya: #latestopinionpoll good for the garden 30% spoiled my weekend 30% the weather is back to normal 30% never believe the MET office 10%

#latestopinionpoll Change Britain Needs 39% Change of Strategy 32% Change of Trousers 29% Change of Leader 25%

All in this together 33% In the altogether 25% All for one and one for all 32% All in Wrestling 10%

@gerrardus: #LatestOpinionPoll Clowns 27% Jokers 33% Stuck in the Middle with EU 31%

@robinsons: #LatestOpinionPoll #NickCleggsFault 100%

@Bizarre57 #LatestOpinionPoll Compo 28% Clegg 33% Foggy 32% Norah Batty 7%

#latestopinionpoll Securing My Job 40% Changing What I Believe In 33% Changing Our Security £100bn

#latestopinionpoll Lies 25% Damned Lies 25% Statistics 25% Contingency 27%

Its Goodnight from Me 26% And Its Goodnight from Him 29% Nick Clegg 45%

@gerrardus: #LatestOpinionPoll Sauron 33% Elrond 32% Saruman 35% Elrond demands proportional representation for hobbits.

@sadbuttrue: #latestopinionpoll 87% of statistics are made up, and the rest are lying ;)

#LatestOpinionPoll Hung 0% Drawn 0% Quartered 25%, 25%, 25%, 25%

@gerrardus: #LatestOpinionPoll Rock 49% Hard Place 51%

@deiknuo: #LatestOpinionPoll Stay in Europe 23% Move GB to Australia 32% Become a South Pacific Island 45%

The Deep Blue Sea 45% Caught 30% The Devil 25%

#LatestOpinionPoll ComRes 25% YouGov 18% Populus 26% Opinium 21% Angus Reid only standing in Scotland everything points to a hung pundit.

Any failure to add up to 100% is down to random sampling error. Or something.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

less stuff, more life

the Breathe Network is a new initiative on simpler living, kicking off with a series of events around the UK in the next 2 months. It would be nice if some of this fed into the election debates too: one of the causes of our present financial crisis, probably the main cause, is greed and overconsumption. But I don't hear anyone challenging an economic model based on consumer capitalism and personal debt.

One volcano in Iceland has thrown our airfreighting industry up in the air: green beans from Kenya and strawberries from New Zealand might be short at Tescos for a while longer, though I imagine the goods will all reach their appointed homes long before the stranded passengers. In normal times, there might be some discussion about whether, as a country, we need to change our patterns of consumption and spending. A few extra wind farms here and there isn't going to have much of an impact when, if the whole world consumed at UK levels, we'd need a couple of extra planets to satisfy the appetites.

'less stuff, more life' is the Breathe networks tagline. Sounds good, the issue is always the detail...

Friday, April 23, 2010

St. George? Here Be Dragons, I'm with Aidan.

this is a repost from a couple of years ago, and still stands:

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

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

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

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

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

I guess the fact that Aidan actually did some of the things he's said to have done might count in his favour as well.
Update: as RevEv notes in the comments, the idea of Aidan for the UK ignores the fact that the Welsh have a decent patron saint already in St. David. I'm struck by the irony of the BNP launching their election campaign with a dressed up 'St. George', someone who'd not be allowed into the country if they had anything to do with it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yeovil Election Hustings: Update

Update: more discussion here: comment 5 gives the exact reasons why the debate is happening as it is.

there's been some amendment to the original format of the local hustings event on 30th April. Here's the final communique:

General Election Hustings Meeting, Friday April 30th (organised by The Town Centre Churches)
This is an open meeting to which all are welcome, beginning at 8.00pm at Vicarage Street Methodist Church. The only way we can hear from all candidates is for them to take the platform individually one after the other - the reasons for this will be explained by The Chair at the beginning of our time together.

Each candidate will speak for 2-3 mins and then respond to questions. If you have a question please write it down and submit it to a steward at the door on arrival. If your question is chosen you will be requested to ask it from the floor by The Chair. We are looking forward to this opportunity of hearing from all of our parliamentary candidates.

It's a great shame for voters that we won't get to see issues discussed face to face, and a great shame that the candidates haven't been able to work out a way to give us that opportunity. On the plus side, chairing the 'debate' on the night will be a lot easier!

here's a list of the 5 local candidates.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is there a 'Christian' Vote?

Plenty of chatter around the blogosphere today about 'doing God' and the election:

BBC: 'Will Christians Swing the 2010 Election'? The headline oversells the article: the answer is almost definitely 'no', but it's an interesting survey of some of the issues. Some good comments, including one from a friend in Martock. Nice to see that Somerton and Frome candidates managed to share a platform for hustings, latest news is that the Yeovil candidates don't seem to be able to manage it, which is shocking. (though as Andy notes in the comments below, S&F don't have a BNP candidate, which makes things a lot easier)

Ekklesia think the idea of a 'Christian Vote' is a myth. V impressed by their 'General Election' news section, good way of keeping up with the issues without being sidetracked by the beauty contest.

This Telegraph piece picks up on an article written by Nick Clegg for the Church of England newspaper, and is sceptical about his claim that his views have Christian roots, given his declared atheism. Cranmer, unsurprisingly, weighs in. Ekklesias Jonathan Bartley points out that Clegg held the same views back in 2008, as recorded in a Third Way interview, and is sceptical about the Telegraph.

Meanwhile Nick Baines reflects on whether he agrees with his namesake, and ends with this: it is possible that the real bonus of a potentially higher turnout than was originally feared will be the marginalisation of the extremist parties (who do well when moderate voters stay at home)..

Other comment
'Letter from Mat' on how loving our neighbour translates into voting.

A poll taken by Premier before the campaign started, already looking quite dated, on how Christians intended to vote. Over 1/3 weren't yet convinced (the survey ended on 12 April) about any of the 3 main leaders. Comments on this at British Religion in Numbers, a recently launched site which will absorb/waste hours of times for stats geeks. Full data set for the poll here - the sample size is just over 400, but it's interesting to see what the top issues are.

Party Policies on Mental Health

Mental Health is one of a whole herd of elephants in the room at this General Election. (Others include the epidemic of absent fathers, the need for an economic model based on something other than consumer credit, housing and house prices, Europe, Iraq etc.). Roughly 1 in 4 adults have an episode of depression at some point in their lives, with 36 million prescriptions for anti-depressants issued in 2008 (up 2m on 2007), and 1 in 6 adults currently medicated for mental illness.

There is both a massive personal, emotional and relational cost to all this, as well as an economic one. It's one symptom of the 'broken society' which the Conservatives seem to have forgotten about (how do you build a Big Society out of broken pieces?)

So what can 17 million mentally ill adults hope for from the next Government?
Labour: We will pioneer better mental health care and tackle the scourge of mental illness. Over the next Parliament more than 8,000 new therapists will ensure access to psychological therapy for all who need it as we seek to change our society’s attitudes to mental illness. (4:4)

we will work to reduce the number of women, young and mentally ill people in prison. (5:5)

(in a section on military policy) We will continue to strengthen mental health provision in partnership with the Combat Stress charity, and roll out our Welfare Pathway to give personnel and their families better support and advice (10:4)

reform of the GP contract to help ensure those with late-life depression and anxiety are diagnosed and supported; and better services for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s so that every area of the country has access to psychological therapy, counselling and memory clinics (6:6)

• Access to psychological therapy for those who need it. is one of 5 highlighted goals for the NHS on page 4:2, and is repeated as 'step 20' of '50 steps to a future fair for all' at the end of the manifesto.

Liberal Democrat:
We will help the NHS work better with the money it has by using the savings we have found to protect front-line services, such as cancer treatment, mental health care, maternity services, dementia care and preventive medicine. (p33)

• Prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget. (p41)

• Improve access to counselling for people with mental health problems, by continuing the roll-out of cognitive and behavioural therapies. (p41)

Because of the rising costs of treatments and an ageing population, there will be particular pressure on services like cancer treatment, mental health care, maternity services, and dementia care; only by going through this process of finding savings elsewhere can we protect these services in the coming years (p40)

Move offenders who are drug addicts or mentally ill into more appropriate secure accommodation. (p74)

the appendix forecasts a cut in 'the economic costs of mental health problems' of £425m ni 2011-12, rising to £605m in 2014-15. (p102)

Mental health is also included in the index, and the 4 references above are all covered.

Conservative: a search for 'mental' found dozens of references to 'departmental', 'fundamental' and 'environmental'. And these..
• enable welfare-to-work providers and employers to purchase services from Mental Health Trusts; and,
• increase access to effective ‘talking’ therapies

• pilot a mental health follow-up service for those who have left the (armed) services (p107)

Update: see the 3rd comment, where our local Conservative candidate gives a bit more detail of their policies on mental health - thankyou Kevin.

Comment: mostly common ground here, and more from Labour and Libdems than the Conservatives. The frustrating thing is that much of it is about dealing with symptoms - more therapy, more dementia support, more support for forces veterans. Labour is the only party to talk about attitudes, but only does so briefly. There are structural factors in our society which contribute to mental illness: family breakup, stress, consumerism, advertising, poverty, the abolition of a weekly day of rest, etc. We've had a historic opportunity, with the debt crunch, to ask questions about the kind of society and culture we want to be. But who is asking those questions?

other links:
Mental Nurse summarises policies from Libdems & UKIP, and Labour and Conservative. Worth a look as this is someone within the mental health sector.
Discussion board links to Green party policies, and some debate.
A summary of policies at Rethink, with links to other signifiacant party policy documents.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mental Block?

Little quiz: what's missing from the following report?

STAFF at Somerset’s main provider of mental health services enjoy high levels of job satisfaction. And they believe the personal care they provide is appreciated by patients and relatives.

Those were among the findings in the annual NHS Staff Satisfaction Survey for Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust by the Care Quality Commission. The survey asked staff their views on issues such as working conditions, how they see their role and responsibilities, job satisfaction, training and career progression.

The results show Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is among the top 20% of English mental health trusts. Findings included:
*94% of staff said they make a difference to patients.
*85% feel valued by colleagues.
*86% say they have an interesting job.
*84% received job-relevant training, learning or development in the past year.
*96% said the trust provides equal opportunities for career progression and promotion.

But there was lower satisfaction about the threat of physical violence or verbal abuse from some patients and relatives.

The trust’s director of human resources, Andre Frullo, said: “We’re proud that the results of this independent survey showed we have a highly motivated team committed to delivering high quality patient care. “We’re mindful of the pressures faced by our staff and the trust board understand that a fully engaged workforce is critical to driving through the changes needed to meet the challenges in the future.

“However, we’re not complacent and continually work with staff and unions to further improve the working environment and support our staff to deliver the highest quality healthcare.”

Spot it? Yup, patients. It's good that staff feel they are making a difference, but whether or not they actually are is about the patients themselves, not the staff. I guess the 'top 20%' figure refers simply to staff satisfaction, and not overall performance. And you probably want happy staff in a place dealing with mental health. Having said that, you probably don't want to be greeted with a loud and cheery 'good morning Mr Keen' as you nervously approach the desk - mental health is still, sadly, one of those issues where we'd rather keep it secret.

Speaking of which, has anyone heard a party leader talking about mental health, stress, depression, etc., which hits about 1/4 of the population and has massive costs both socially and financially for the UK? Me neither.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hustings: Do You Invite the BNP?

Update: according to this 1 in 3 constituencies have a church-based hustings event going on. How many will have BNP representation?

Our local paper had a story last week of a local hustings event which was facing some problems: one candidate wasn't going to attend if the BNP were invited. As a 'hustings' is traditionally all the local candidates, there may well be others who won't attend if the BNP aren't invited. What to do? For churches, there's the added issue of giving the BNP a platform on church premises. Here's some thoughts from the CofE election/BNP guide:

Churches are under no legal obligation to include the BNP in election hustings meetings, or give space to such parties for public meetings, if they consider this ‘association’ could have detrimental affect on their reputation and activities (as charities).

It is open to charities to decline to invite to a public meeting a representative from a political party which advocates policies which are in contravention of the charity’s objects, or whose presence or views are likely to increase the chance of public disorder or of alienating the charity’s supporters. (Charity Commission Guidance, May 2009) (Charity Commission)

If candidates participate in an event that does not include all candidates in a constituency they need to declare this on their election returns. Organiser should be able to provide notional costings for the event which are split between the candidates participating.

…when a husting organiser invites candidates on a selective basis, the [Electoral] Commission considers that the provision of a public platform for those candidates who attend would constitute notional expenditure for the candidate … and also a non-cash donation, if valued at more than £50. (Electoral Commission)

More election hustings resources here and here. Both the Churches Together and CARE hustings guides point out that churches may be in contravention of their charity objects by inviting the BNP, though they point out that the norm is to invite all the candidates. I guess there may also be police advice to consider - if public disorder is likely, then churches may get police advice not to invite the BNP anyway. Mind you, there may then be demonstrations from BNP supporters, so this may cut both ways.

I'd be interested to hear what people are doing in other parts of the country. I know there is another hustings event being planned by some of our local churches, and no doubt they are running into this issue!

'Christian Nightlife' conference

The whole idea of Christian Nightlife sends all sorts of weird images scurrying across my head: gangs of elderly ladies roaming the streets being nice to strangers, vicars attempting to dance to Delirious, etc. But seriously....

A message from the Christian Night-life Initiatives - ‘Community Transformation within the Night-Time Economy’ Conference - Wednesday 7th July 2010

In January, it was announced that Bedford would be hosting the second National Christian Nightlife Initiatives on Wednesday 7th July from 10.00am - 3.30pm at the Bedford Salvation Army, MK40 1QS.

The conference will be exploring how Christian night-life projects can create create community transformation. Our morning keynote speaker will be Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance. Steve Clifford worked as a teacher in the 1980s before taking up full-time church leadership in 1985. He has been long been involved in church planting, running leadership and discipleship teams, and enabling networks. He has served as Chair of many key evangelical initiatives, including Soul Survivor, Hope 08, Soul in the City, London and of March for Jesus International.

After lunch, we will be joined by Andy Turner, the Director of XChange from the Church Urban Fund.

A full programme for the conference is available for download from the new CNI network -

Should be relevant to things like Street Pastors, Street Angels etc. Ht Start the Week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Deep Thoughts from a Shallow Christian

Thoughts on Giving: "Giving is a huge waste of time and money. There's no point giving back to God, he already owns everything anyway, and do you honestly think that you have anything he wants anyway?"

There's a whole series of funny vids from the same stable, all about 1 minute long, on giving, thoughts, temptation etc. Sadly they all cost $20 to download (deep pockets from a shallow.....), but it doesn't take long to browse them. The Giving one was used at a recent diocesan event on giving and stewardship, and worked well to lighten up a potentially heavy subject. That was, until the open question time at the end when parish treasurers all started asking why their contribution to the Diocese was going up so steeply...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Repeat Business

So someone came to church for the first time at Easter, or some big set-piece service. How do you encourage a bit of repeat business? The folks at Church Marketing Sucks did a bit of a survey (results right).

Of course, this is to scientific polling what newspaper headlines are to the facts on the ground. I like the idea of a cliffhanger sermon though.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Most Unchristian Marketing in the World, Ever?

'the Best Hymns Album in the World, Ever' proclaims the label. Yes the track listing looks good, but the title fails at several points:

- what place has any Christian individual or group in claiming that what it has produced is 'the best in the world, ever'? Pride. Fail.

- the title sets the production company as judge and jury over what constitutes 'best'. Presumption. Fail

- Sure we're supposed to commend the good, but there's a difference between commending and hype. It's a vast difference if you've a financial interest in one over the other. Greed. Fail.

- On what basis is this 'the best ever'? Best collection? Best production quality? Best lyrics? 'there is a green hill' is factually pretty loose as there isn't much greenery around Jerusalem at the best of times. There is a very good chance that the claim of the title simply isn't true, and without reasonable evidence/proof, this is either misleading, manipulation, or downright deceit. It's a long way from 'let your yes be yes and your no be no'. In fact, Jesus went on to say 'any more than this comes from the evil one.'

We know that church marketing sucks, but perhaps it's worse. Is marketing satanic?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Party Manifestos - Not Doing God Either. Which is OK.

Here's what a search for 'faith', 'God', 'church', 'religion' and related terms gets you from this weeks 3 main manifestos:

Liberal Democrats (p36)
"We will.....Allow parents to continue to choose faith-based schools within the
state-funded sector and allow the establishment of new faith schools. We will ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction."

Labour (section 7 p6)
Faith is enormously important to millions of people in Britain, shaping their values and the way they live. We respect the importance of belief and welcome the contribution that people of faith make to our communities and society more widely. We will actively combat extremist groups who promote fear, hatred and violence on the basis of faith or race.


for comparison:

one passing mention of faith schools, and "oppose disestablishment of the Church of England"

"UKIP believes in civic nationalism, which is open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain, regardless of ethnic or religious background. We reject the "blood and soil" ethnic nationalism of extremist parties. UKIP opposes multiculturalism and political correctness, and promotes uniculturalism - aiming to create a single British culture embracing all races and religions" (p13)

"Religious school materials must not teach hatred of the western world and must be congruent with British values. Sharia courts must not override UK law" (p14)

Green Party: manifesto due out tomorrow.

1. On one level, it's good to see that none of the main parties is blowing the religious dog whistle very loudly. This also makes it a bit more difficult for anyone trying to argue that it's a Christian duty to vote for one party or another, though some are having a valiant try.

2. The lack of a simplistic 'x party at prayer' makes for some serious debates about the relative priority of other issues which should exercise Christians - international aid; military and weapons policy; support for families and communities; wise and ethical finance; just taxation; promotion of a culture of love, justice and forgiveness rather than lust, greed and scapegoating; and so on. None of the traditional trump cards are available - for example no party has a stated policy on reducing the abortion limit, which has often been the Ace of Spades for Catholic leaders. The Conservatives are the only party overtly supporting marriage, but beyond the tax allowance there's not much: there's a minor commitment to relationship support in their manifesto, but no money or quantities specified.

3. Which all makes a hung parliament a more tempting result. If you only agree with some policies from each party, it's the only chance you have of getting all the policies you agree with put into action. Or none of them....!

Yeovil Election Hustings, 30th April

Update: there's been a tweak to the format.

Just had this through:

Just a note to say the Town Centre LEP are arranging an Election Hustings on Friday 30th April 8.00pm at Vicarage Street Methodist Church. We are inviting the three main parties. This is an open meeting for anyone in our churches (town centre and beyond) and members of the public. The meeting will be chaired by a clergy person. We would love to receive questions for the candidates - these are to be brought along on the night in written form (stating the name of the questioner) -given to a steward at the door - the questions will then be grouped into themes by a small team of people before the start time and given to the chair.

At the moment two of the three main parties have agreed to attend - we are awaiting a third response!

I've just had my first bit of electioneering, a Libdem at the door just as we sat down for tea. The leaflet about David Laws was fairly brief, and reasonably positive, but had the mandatory Libdem bar chart showing that Labour/Tory/UKIP/George Bush 'can't win here' (in our case it's Labour), and the claim that the local Conservative candidate lives in Kingston.

I checked this, and Kevin Davis (for it is he)'s blog bears it out. Having been selected in July 2007, it does seem to be taking a while to sell up and relocate. Kevin writes : They of course neglect totally that I have been trying to sell my house for two years during Brown's recession, that I have pledged to move her and have a home here (and I still will, win or lose), that neither Laws nor Ashdown came from this area. Kevin also comments below about his housing situation.

The blog is a real curates egg - all I'll say is that I much prefer reading people who are being positive about what they stand for, rather than just having ago at everyone else.

More Yeovil Election info:
David Laws site (sitting Libdem MP)
Lee Skevington (Labour candidate) twitter.
Kevin Davis on twitter
list of candidates (BBC)

Looking forward to the hustings, just need to think of some questions that the candidates won't have pre-digested answers to. Like how they'll promote immigration from overseas to the Yeovil area so that we can continue to have NHS dentistry.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yeovil Eco-Town and New Housing latest, and NIMBY ethics.

One thing I missed during Lent was the latest on new housing plans around Yeovil: the town has just secured £1.5m of government funding to carry out a feasibility study on an 'eco town'. This would be a 5,000 home development (which was already in the pipeline) but to higher environmental and carbon footprint standards than normal. Respondents on the BBC's 'Have Your Say' page are less than positive about the idea, but I've rarely met people who are keen to have more houses built near them.

3 potential sites have been identified, to the SW of Yeovil (Brympton house/West Coker area) South (around the A37 at Keyford) and, most interesting, across the Dorset border towards Over Compton. There's a rough chart of the possible sites here. There's going to be public consultation from later this year.

For a bit more detail, the council has also been doing a land survey (the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment) for land available for new housing over the next 15 years. They've identified potential land for nearly 27,000 homes spread across 544 sites. That doesn't mean this number will get built - the current plan is for around 19,700 by 2026, and if the Conservatives get in they've promised to scrap the planning system upon which that figure is based, so goodness knows what will happen then.

The summary SHLAA report is here, with details of all the sites, where they are, and how many homes they can accomodate. There's a lot to trawl through, so it's only worth looking at if you've got 15 minutes to spare. If you want to see it in map form for the Yeovil area, try this. It's quite striking to see the areas set out: potential expansion along the A3088 corridor (increasingly surrounding Brympton D'evercy stately home) and along the A37, and West Coker becoming a village on the fringe of urban Yeovil. As I said, not all of these sites are likely to be used, and no doubt there will be local campaigns to protect a wide array of back yards....

....which set me wondering who has the moral right to make this kind of protest. Anyone with 2 children or fewer (like me) isn't reproducing at a high enough rate to maintain the UK population, let alone offset the rapidly growing army of retired people with a sufficient balance of people of working age. Result? We need net immigration, and new homes to accomodate this. Any behaviour which brings about a divorce creates 2 households out of one, thus increasing the need for housing units. Anyone with a second home that isn't vital to their work or circumstances is using 2 homes when one will do. Anyone refusing to take certain posts because of pay or conditions, requiring them to be filled by EU workers (I'm off to the dentists today - there is not a single UK born NHS dentist in the area, because all the Brits have followed the money into the private sector. Thank goodness for the Portuguese and Polish) is creating a need for net immigration. And so on.

Only semi-seriously, do any of the above have the right to protest about new housing proposals when we are living lives which make them necessary?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Clegg, Cameron and Brown pitch for Christian voters.

A couple of videos with the 3 party leaders talking about how they see the church and faith groups. The first one is put together by Faithworks, with questions put by Steve Chalke.

I have to say that Clegg comes across best from this, even though he's the only one of the three without any stated Christian faith. Cameron sounds more like a sales pitch: he says all the right things, but it sounds a bit rehearsed. Brown's view seems to see faith groups as a potential arm of the state, to help deliver the Labour agenda, from internet access (?) to greening the economy.

And this one, from Christians in Politics

Brown should really quit smiling. Good to be reminded of the Jubilee 2000 agenda, he sees the gospel as the inspiration for social activism, justice, work against poverty and for community. Cameron tries to join the dots between faith and his 'change'/broken society agenda. Clegg deals with some of the same issues as Brown, but his message is a bit different: get involved.

Cleggs piece starts to sketch a possible role for the church in politics: as a broker of honest and in-depth debate. That's not something the individual parties will give us, as they rarely engage fairly and thoroughly with one another in public. It's not something the main TV election coverage delivers either, as they seem more committed to giving airtime to their own pundits than letting us hear what politicians are saying. The 3 party leaders debates will be the exception to this rule. One of the common threads on sites resourcing the church for the election is getting churches to organise local hustings events. But the 'broker' role is only possible if the church itself is sufficiently clued up on the issues and debates.

Ht Church Mouse

LICC events, and free book giveaway

Just had the latest events listing from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) which includes 5000 library books being given away in London this Wednesday, and some conferences on Generation Y, discipleship, youth, leadership etc. Most are based in London and Manchester, with a Graham Cray event on 21st century discipleship in Glasgow.

If I lived a bit nearer to London, you might see me camped outside the door of St. Peters, Vere Street on Wednesday morning armed with a range of sturdy carrier bags. Anyone in the London area thinking about setting up a church library, here's your chance to stock up.....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Tealight is Extinguished

Farewell to Archdruid Eileen and the inspired Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, probably the best bit of Christian satire since the Winebibber. I hope the site stays up, and it would be great to see it turned into an e-book or some other format, as there are plenty of real gems there. If you've never read the Beaker Common Prayer, it's brilliant.

And my apologies to Beaker fans, it seems that something I wrote might have encouraged Gary, sorry Eileen, to call time.
"Funny thing, I feel very refreshed and released. No pressure to think of something funny, even though I know it's only self-imposed pressure. No blog stats to look at, no responses to deal with."

Be careful what you blog, someone might actually read it and take it seriously! It might even bless them.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Living in Medium Tension

John Coles writes in the latest New Wine e-newsletter:

Starting from the edges
...a (new) movement must live in medium tension with the surrounding culture. If the tension is too high then the movement will only attract social misfits – if it is too low it will not attract anyone who wants to be changed or wants to be different from society’s norms or from religious norms.

It also appears that most radically effective missionary movements start from the edges rather than the centre of historic denominations. This is probably because the centre of most institutions is more interested in self-preservation than in change and development.

When God baptizes a person or a church in a fresh way with his Spirit they will probably need to work out how to live in medium tension with the mother church. If not they will spin off and may be effective amongst a new group altogether but not succeed in bringing fresh life to the mother church. In contrast if they don’t live in any sort of tension with the mother church they will probably revert and be conformed again to the old way of doing things.

makes a lot of sense to me, very helpful.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Trafalgar Square Passion - video, pictures and reports

A couple of video clips of the Good Friday passion play in Trafalgar Square have gone up on Youtube. The sound quality isn't brilliant, but you can hear most of it.

Part 1

part 2 - gives you more of a sense of the size of the crowd.

Part 3 - plus helicopter! Good sound system though, seems to win out! Based on the clips, it sounds like the script went beyond a simple recounting of the gospel narrative.

Also a picture here, eye witness account at the Blog of Dan, news stories here and here, one of which estimates a crowd of about 20,000 people.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Election Resources for Churches

There are probably loads out there, but here's a few for starters:

Evangelical Alliance page, with ideas on how churches can play a role, and summaries of the key policies of each party - that bit is evolving, but will save a lot of trawling through manifestoes.

Make the Cross Count run by Care, helpful prayer leaflet and some Bible study resources to get people thinking.

Christians in Politics including a resource pack for a 'Politics Sunday'.

There'll no doubt be other resource sites out there - if you spot any, let me know....

At the moment I'd vote for a hung parliament, because that's the only possible chance of getting all the policies I agree with. There's no one party which really convinces me, though the issues are different with each one. But that's a different post...

Warning Sign Generator

I'm sure there's a proper liturgical use for this Warning Sign Generator

But even if there isn't, it's a very useful resource. Thanks to the CPAS Church Leadership magazine for signposting (badoom tish) this one. Great idea in the latest edition of the mag for a Pentecost service using warning signs.

Alternatively, if you need a sign for Flammable Peroxides, then Online Sign is the place to go.

Over to you folks. What kind of warning signs do we need in church?

Oh yes, and at the same site you can visit a Tombstone Generator. Obviously a virtual one, rather than one which sends large marble slabs shooting out of your DVD drive.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Labservatism, and other animals

Regardless of your politics, this is a very clever bit of propaganda.

Many of the professional commentating class are talking about how the election will be won or lost on a particular gaffe or inspired line, or voting one another onto the list of top political journalists. This all sounds a bit prehistoric to me: what if the best lines come from the voters themselves, perhaps some clever Iphone app which asks you 10 simple questions and tells you which party comes closest to your views, or some bit of adbusting on a party poster which, like many bits of comedy, tells the truth in a much more powerful way than a pre-digested soundbite?

I must confess that the more portentious and knowing the political commentators try to sound (at the moment our TV is so scrambled we can only get BBC, you can join the dots yourself!) the more I wonder how many clothes they are really wearing. It's in the interests of political commentators to portray themeselves as influential - after all, their next pay increment depends on it. I'm sceptical. Yet at the same time there's no point hyping new media as being a big player when we've not yet really seen the evidence.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Facing Easter

Easter Live is a really creative way to engage with the Easter story on Facebook, an array of different characters, each with a character profile, posting at regular intervals on what's going on over the next few days. Excellent.

Or here's another version of the Passion according to Facebook, which is both inspired and very funny, even funnier if you've read/seen the Da Vinci Code.

Have a great Easter. Christ is Risen!

(cartoon c/o Dave Walker. Jon Birch also has a good one)

Pros and Cons

Joe Haward sums up a lot of what I was feeling about blogging at the start of Lent, and still feel to a large extent now:

So I'm checking my blog a lot, reading other people's blogs and spending my time like this. I've noticed that it's starting to have an impact on my prayer life and spiritual health, so it is a problem. Therefore I'm going to have a break from all things blog. I need to have a spiritual workout.

It was noticeable how many bloggers were reviewing their blogging around the start of Lent: Doug Chaplin and Maggi Dawn decided to change their patterns, others quit for the season, I left it open about whether to resume or not.

And to be honest I'm torn. In the 'against' column is everything I wrote 7 weeks ago, plus a few observations since then:
- It feels like I have a lot more time than before

- It feels like I have more energy, and am less preoccupied than before

- Resisting the temptation to opine on things was quite a test, but a good one. I don't
suppose anyone noticed the world ceasing to turn.

- I'm getting to bed a bit earlier, and with less on my mind, because there's no longer the wondering of whether anyone's left a comment during the 10 o clock news. On a couple of occasions I've had awful nights after getting a critical comment or two, and spent hours stewing over them. Not good. Nick Baines notes in his Radio Times column this week (well worth a read) that you have to have a bit of a thick skin to do this. I don't have one of those.

But there's a 'for' column too:
- I enjoy it

- Blogging gives me the chance, and the challenge, of interacting with other points of view and processing my thoughts. Writing stuff down helps me to work out what I think.

- It's a way of continuing conversations begun elsewhere, occasionally sparking off comments on Facebook, or people from other local churches chatting about something I've written, or once in a blue moon actually printing it off for their church leadership to look at.

- With 85 Google Reader subscribers, 490 Twitter followers, plus other links in sidebars and on Facebook, there's a reasonable network/audience linked here now. It doesn't mean that that many people read this thing - I'd be concerned at the waste of time involved if they did. But it does mean that the blog, sometimes, can be a useful signpost, or part of a campaign. Perhaps it would do better at that if I got back to the original goal of this thing, which was to be a place for resources and discussions about mission. It seems to have splurged all over the place a bit!

- One or two comments here, and people I've spoken to, have said how much they appreciate this blog.

- The election: though the overload of verbiage which accompanies it probably won't be any the better for me hopping aboard the bandwagon.

It's a tricky one. I remember a saying 'the good is the enemy of the best' - we're tempted by the things which seem good, but sometimes they get in the way of something better. I don't really want to lose the greater peace of mind, sense of time, and easing in skittishness which the blogging fast has given me. The issue is whether I've the self-control to engage in blogging at a lighter level than before. This is my 1500th post. Is that a good place to stop, or just a good place to take stock?

PS if it's an April Fool you're after, the Guardian has a cracker on Labours new election tactics.