Sunday, May 30, 2010

Catch them Doing Something Right

The faster way to improved behaviour
There is a principle that is called ‘Catching your children doing something right’. As mothers, fathers, step-parents – even as employers – we’re used to catching people doing something wrong and criticizing them for it.

But the faster and more effective way to improved behaviour is to catch them doing something right and encourage them in it. Many of us, even as adults, are crushed by the constant pointing out of where we go wrong. This is a great tragedy – when the ear never hears praise, the heart loses the will to try.

When you get the hang of catching people doing something right, you can often find the opportunity to encourage – even when it’s not that easy.

The elderly grandmother went to watch her grandson at the school Sports Day. Tom didn’t get into the final of the 100 metres or the 200 metres, and he was unplaced in the longer races as well. In fact, the only event in which he looked remotely comfortable was the egg and spoon race, but even then he came last. As Tom and his grandmother walked away together, the little boy’s head was down until she put her arm around him and whispered, “You were the only one whose egg didn’t fall off the spoon.”

That young boy never did make it as a sportsman, but against the odds he did achieve great things in other areas of his life. I’m not surprised…

… It’s hard to fail with a grandmother like that.

Read the rest, by Rob Parsons, here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

High Street Good Samaritan

The most obvious translation of the parable of the Good Samaritan into the present day is the 'have a go heroes' who intervene when someone is getting beaten up by a gang. Here is a different version of the story, involving a man on the road from M&S to WHS.....

Whilst in Yeovil WH Smiths today I witnessed an elderly gent being accosted by the Talk Talk sales team (Safety in number). They enticed him into a conversation which it was obvious he did not want.

I left them to talk for a while, I was in no doubt this gent did not have the slightest interest in the product. The sales man was still keen to keep going.Enough was enough, I intervened, I asked the gent if he wanted to know more or be free to continue on his day. The gent looked relieved.

I asked to see a manger for WH Smiths, I think I spoke to the assistant manger (no introduction or badge). Who didn’t really appear even slightly interested, he said that the sales people on the door are arranged by head office, and that they had complaints before. With a little more pressure he agreed to speak to the sales people.

Save someone from a gang of robbers today! Thinking about Christian witness on the high street, maybe a far more effective and loving 'ministry' would be to replace the open air preaching/drama/dance/thurible juggling with teams of Good Samaritans who can loiter near the people with clipboards who prowl the pedestrianised zones and shopping centres, intervening to give people the chance to walk away if it looks like they're being pressurised into signing anything.

ht Yeovil Blog.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eco Towns - Green Light or Red Light?

I wonder what the future will be for the planned 'Eco Town' near Yeovil. This report from the Independent suggests that the 'Eco Towns' planned under Labour will be shelved as part of the savings plans under the new government.

Here's the relevant snippet:
Gordon Brown's flagship scheme for eco-towns across the UK is set to be scrapped by the coalition. Cash for the second wave of developments, announced earlier this year, has been frozen and the scheme is under review, The IoS has learnt.

The first wave of four eco-towns was announced last year and will go ahead.
But the housing minister, Grant Shapps, said last night: "We will back new eco-developments with broad-based local support that are genuinely sustainable. We will not impose eco-town developments on communities that do not want them." (comment - that means nobody will get any, as I've yet to hear of a community that was happy to lose large chunks of countryside to new housing)

Mr Shapps's Labour predecessor, John Healey, said: "The shelving of the eco-town programme is a clear signal of what we can expect from Cameron's government. Having feigned concern for the environment and gestured about empowering councils, the Tories' true colours are coming through – and what they said before the election bears little resemblance to decisions they're now taking."

The move is set to anger councils – many Tory-run – that requested eco-town developments and have already spent money on plans.

At present there's nothing new on the Communities department website, though the banner at the top says "we are reviewing all content on this website". I'll bet. New eco town proposals are still being submitted, though with the scrapping of regional planning, it will be up to local councils to push them, rather than respond to the regional plans. The Yeovil proposal was in response to the South-Wests 'Regional Spatial Strategy' which called for a 5000 home 'urban extension' to the town.

A group representing house builders has warned of a 'dangerous void' in planning policy, with the new government clearer on what it's scrapping than what it's going to replace it with. If the regional planning system isn't there to translate population projections into local provision of housing, services and infrastructure for new businesses, then will 'the market' simply sort it all out? I thought we'd worked out that faith in 'the market' was vanity?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something to Believe In

Whilst I can still do so for free, here's a piece from the Times earlier this week. Maurice Saatchi calls for the new government to give us a Big Idea to believe in.

One by one, our most basic beliefs have turned into myths.

We used to believe in caring socialism, until it reminded us of the Russian station masters who sent out empty trains in the middle of the night to meet their state targets. We used to believe in capitalism, until we were introduced to the “free market” called banking, where five companies control 80 per cent of all transactions and two of them went bust. We used to believe in proud nationalism, until we recognised that the combination of globalisation, devolution, and immigration make it seem an uncomfortable anachronism. In Britain today, the great Hollywood law that “nobody knows anything” should be “nobody believes anything”.

You could add God to the list of faiths/big ideas no longer held or believed in by a significant number. This is postmodernism in all its glory. Or perhaps, postmodernism Part 2. In Part 1, there were still enough people who held to 'metanarratives', big explanations/stories of the events of history, big philosophies which explained everything, whether it was God, capital, The People, or Progress.

In Postmodernism Part 2, the Big Stories have gone. They're held as articles of faith by a diminishing remnant, but are no longer mainstream. Saatchi notes Camerons well-documented pragmatism, and lack of a single, overriding philosophy:

Our new leader has the intellect, the charisma and the courage for history to judge him “a great prime minister”. To deserve the title, he will have to ignore the Conservative press officer who replied to a query about his party’s philosophy: “If you want philosophy, read Descartes”, and the Conservative candidate who agreed: “We don’t want philosophy and fluff”.

Now it might be that the age of ideology was just that, an age which has been and gone. But there has always been a big story somewhere, whether it was the medieval Catholic worldview, the Enlightenment, the British Empire etc. Nowadays 'believe' is an advertising slogan for Guiness, or football, I forget which. It's something very short term, a brief exertion of will and wishful thinking, packaged as entertainment.

Saatchis prescription is to reread Marx, the Declaration of Independence, and the Sermon on the Mount: To read them afresh is to understand the power of belief. They are all cries against the injustice of the established order. Like our Prime Minister, these authors all wanted “power to the people!” Their aim was revolution. Their effect was revelation. Um, yeeeeeeesssss, as Jeremy Paxman might say. Not the most accurate summary of the Sermon on the Mount I've ever read, but it's still an intriguing choice. The USA still has a couple of Big Ideas on the go, one is its own self-belief as a global agent of righteousness, the other (connected) one is in God. Apart from blind faith in Fabio Capello, you'd be hard pushed to find any left in England.

So what happens post-postmodernism? Is part 3 that the world is recolonised by those who do believe in a Big Story (China, Islam)? Can we manage, as a society and as individuals, without a big picture of how the world fits together? If there is nothing to be sceptical of, would we have to create something? And how does belief in Jesus as the agent of God's kingdom, a big story which covers all of creation and all of history, work in this context?

And politically, how long can a party survive if it doesn't have a philosophy? If everything is pragmatism, then all politics comes down to personality - do I trust the pragmatic instincts of Polician C over Policitian L or Politician LD. If there's no philosophy guiding those instincts, then ultimately there's no other way of judging which is better or worse.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Death Jimbo, But Not as We Know It

With the end of Ashes to Ashes last Friday, there now won't be anything worth watching on TV until the BBC gets the rights to The Ashes back in a few years time. The rest of the world has probably forgotten about it already, but as I only caught up with the finale on Iplayer yesterday.....

It turned out that the series was set in a form of Purgatory. There can't be many TV series that last for 3 series (5 if you count Life on Mars) where all the main characters are dead. Gene Hunt, it turns out, was also a dead cop, whose role it was to see other cops who died before their time safely through the right door. In A2A, the door in question is a pub.

If a round in the Railway Arms was heaven (echoes of the banquet parables?), then Hell was the basement of a police station, with Jim Keats as Satan. He plays the role of the tempter/tester all the way through, questioning the teams faith in Hunt, and trying to lure them away from him. At the end though, the team still have a choice - do they step through the door Keats is offering them, or do they choose to walk away. Temptation never forces you to do anything, the choice is still ours.

There's even an echo of CS Lewis 'Screwtape Letters' in the reports which Jim Keats 'files' on the A2A website: Do you like to be called “sir”, sir? I don’t. Don’t like Chief Inspector or even Mister. I like it when people call me “Jimmy” or “Jimbo” or “Pencil Neck” or “Four Eyes”. Why? Because it means they are under-estimating me. And that is when I am at my most effective. My most powerful. Discuss.

Later on : As for my report on DCI Hunt - it is finished. I must say, it makes for fascinating reading. Fascinating.
“And you will know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
John Chapter 8, verse 32. I believe. I know my Bible. Must know almost every verse.

I'm kicking myself now that I didn't pick up those clues, unlike a colleague in my pub quiz team who gave me his idea of what was happening last week, and turned out to be pretty much spot on. The writers are completely up front about Keats being the Devil (see 'The Conclusion' vid here). And it turns out my theory about the Quattro numberplate and a link to July 7th was completely wrong. The biggest clue of all, of course, is the title of the show.

The spell in purgatory/limbo seems to function a bit like the Wizard of Oz (which gets repeatedly referenced through the series). Ray comes to terms with his guilt and becomes both wiser and more humane (a heart?), Chris gets his courage (the lion), Shaz gets recognition. It seems to be completing the work of personal growth that was interrupted by their premature deaths, but these changes only happen because of Alex's intervention: with just Gene Hunt as their 'guv', the three are stuck. The ferryman on the Styx needed a shove to get him all the way across, and that was Alex's job.

Great ending: Hunt back in his office looking at a brochure for a new car, to replace the beloved Quattro ("you murdered my car!"), when a new arrival bursts in "where's my desk, where's my Iphone?" and Hunt is back into action. Heaven as an inn with Jesus as the landlord: 'in my Fathers house are many rooms'. Not far off. So what does really happen after we die...?..good one to chat about over a pint.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rolling Worship

No, not a fresh expression in response to the rising number of overweight people. My old chum Andy Griffiths is launching a novel approach at his church in Chelmsford. The pattern for a Sunday morning has become a series of segments:

■ 9.30am-10am liturgical, usually choir-based worship, usually without a sermon.
■ 10am-10.30am. Coffee
■ 10.30am-11am will be the core. Here there will usually be teaching by sermon, video or a choice of different modules of teaching to allow for different learning styles, from a lecture
or a discussion to “messy church” opportunities to make things. The core will always be accessible for new and non-regular worshippers, who may feel unfamiliar with traditional worship. Once a month Communion will be celebrated in the core. Andy says: “The core is our
chance to get together as one church family.”
■ More coffee from 11am-11.30am leads to:
■ Band-based worship from 11.30am-12 noon. Andy adds: “The feel will be contemporary, the liturgy will be minimal, the welcome will be warm.”
■ Children will be catered for in a variety of ways right through a Sunday morning.

Full details here (click on the June 2010 issue - at time of writing the current one - and go to page 3). People can come when they want and go when they like. Looks like its the result of a serious consultation with the whole church, and is an interesting way of trying to be 'all together in one place' whilst catering for a variety of musical tastes, learning styles, and stages of faith.

I like the church tagline 'to live ordinary lives, gloriously'. I also like the quantities of coffee! Following some of the discussion about men in church a few days ago, I also note that you can be in this church for a 1 1/2 hr block on Sunday and not have to sing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Well worth a look

Following up a footnote, I had a peek at which is a collection of emerging church/fresh expressions resources put together by Richard Seel. Richard used to work for the BBC and is now a minister in Norfolk, involved in cafe church and training.

I thought the site merited a post all to itself, as it's got lots of helpful material:
1. Book notes: brief summaries and notes on a big range of books, covering things like alternative worship, cafe church, leadership, new monasticism, preaching, small groups. There's a paragraph or so on dozens and dozens of texts, enough to give a flavour of what it's about and whether it's worth looking at. (If you want a more meaty version of the same thing, Alison Morgans fantastic site has longer summaries of lots of key books on prayer, apologetics and ministry)

2. Video resources for worship: helpfully indexed by different parts of the service (welcome, confession, prayers etc.). Not such a big collection to be overwhelming, but plenty of good stuff.

3. C21st Church a course Richard teaches to lay leaders in the area, full teaching notes for 8 sessions covering culture, worship, preaching, spirituality, the Bible etc. Plenty of good material in this to mull over (or borrow!!!) If it came with powerpoints then Mission Shaped Intro would be up for some serious competition.

4. Some papers and reflection on Xpressions Cafe, the local 'fresh expression' which Richard is involved with, a cafe church in a rural setting which runs in 4 zones at the same time - cafe, families, exploring faith and a contemplative zone, allowing people to move in and out of the different zones all as part of the one event.

This is a really interesting approach instead of having 1 event and then trying to provide something else as a lead on (e.g a community cafe, then trying to encourage families along to Messy Church), it runs them all at the same time, in the same complex of buildings, so that people can base themselves in the cafe but explore the other zones at the same time. The latest Encounters on the Edge from George Lings has more about Xpressions Cafe, which is where I got the footnote from!

Another story about a similar kind of project tomorrow...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Is Vision a Bad Thing?

Tim Chesterton has an alternative take on the role of vision in church life:

'Where there is no vision, the people sigh with relief and get back to loving one another'.

Tim's been reading some provocative posts by David Hayward on vision, and why it's bad for the church. However, in one of those posts is the line: "What would it be like just to gather, worship, pray and teach the scripture, and love one another?" That, if I'm not mistaken, is a vision: a picture of the way things should be. Yes there is a danger in churches being dragged off course by one or two people having a strident 'vision' which everyone else has to conform to.

But if a whole church community can agree on their picture of the way things should be, on what they are working towards, then I can't see how that's a bad thing. Jesus is constantly setting before people a picture of things being different: the Beatitudes, the Lords Prayer, John 17, the parables etc. A church without an agreed vision is in danger of ending up going nowhere, or at the mercy of whoever prays the loudest. Like it or not, we all have a vision: a picture of how we think the church ought to be, a picture about which we are passionate. Ask people to describe their ideal church, or the most memorable act of worship they've taken part in, or the most enriching community they've been part of, and you're not often short of material.

Yes it's wrong to take business ideas wholesale and just drop them on a local church from a great height. But shying away from any shared picture of the kind of church you want to be, or the reason you exist in the first place, seems like deliberately closing your eyes when it would be better to open them.

PS comments on this may take a while to appear, as we have a church weekend on at the moment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

You learn a new thing every day

This is todays:

(in the late 19th century) many cities also lacked any infrastructure for leisure. Haphazard sporting pursuits that had been part of the fabric of many towns and villages for centuries began to be organised into proper sporting institutions with clear rules, organised leagues and a desire to divert young minds from drink, sex and destruction. The vicars, priests and ministers who helped pioneer these new sporting diversions were deeply averse to the idea of sport on Sunday. They also had a very distinct temperance agenda. With the advent of the 5½-day week, Saturday afternoon drunkenness was becoming a problem. The 3pm kick-off was partly a result of the desire of church leaders to keep men from spending an afternoon drinking their wages away.

Read the rest of 'Aston Villa and the Mission of God' , on the origins of the football league, and its connection with the local church. Yes I know the season's over. Back to the cricket....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Generation

Here's the line up of current and potential party leaders, at time of writing

David Cameron (born 1966)
Nick Clegg (born 1967)

Labour contenders
David Miliband (born 1965)
Ed Miliband (born 1969)
Ed Balls (born 1967)
John McDonnell (born 1951)
as yet undeclared Andy Burnham (born 1970) (Update: now declared)
Update: Diane Abbott (born 1953) has entered the fray in a welcome burst of diversity. Actually, not that diverse - she's Oxbridge too. What are the chances that Michael Portillo is one of the 10,000+ new Labour members and planning to stand as well?

With two exceptions, Generation X have well and truly taken over. The original writeup of Generation X was a bunch of nihilists, destined to live forever off the scraps their baby boomer parents had left them - McJobs, shopping, marketing, and the absence of any kind of big idea or cause to fight for. Sounds fine if you're 22 and trying to work off your student debt in the early 90's, not quite so clear if you're 43 and Prime Minister in 2010.

So if Generation X is supplanting the baby boomers, what is my generation like? Beyond a taste (not universally shared) for stadium rock, curry, irony and Have I Got News for You, is there anything else? I found this piece by Patrick Neate very interesting, an attempt to redefine Generation X based on the following characteristics:

- Magpie Tendencies, cherry picking from all sorts of sources, eclectic.

- Enterprising "Faced with new and difficult career circumstances but armed with new and difficult tools, we adapted"

- Instinctive Relativists: "We didn't believe in global communism, but that doesn't make us advocates of global capitalism. We may not believe in God or institutions but that's missing the point; because we don't believe in the absence of God or institutions either. We don't even believe in immutable knowledge. We prefer Wikipedia - a limitless, editable source that's as fallible as its contributors"

- Natural Pluralists - "it's simply not true that we don't believe in right and wrong; rather that we're often not sure what they are. We are governed by uncertainty and, admittedly, this is a dangerous position. But, in the contemporary world, it's still better than many. As a general principle, it must be worse to think you're right and be wrong (ask Tony "Boomer" Blair) than to admit that you're just not sure"

- Mod Cons (moderate conservatives)

- Comfort Junkies "Our Mod Con tendencies will never get in the way of our mod cons and our pluralism will never outgun our desire for comfort. It is the one thing about which we're never relative. And this scares even me."

he concludes (note - this was written a couple of years ago. It also reflects a thoroughly middle class flavour to Gen X, maybe cultural analysts are only bothered about people in their own social grade):
"As Generation X reaches middle age and inevitably takes charge, it's possible to envisage dithering direction guided only by the side its bread (wholemeal, stone ground, from the deli) is buttered (spreadable, Danish, unsalted). But it's also possible to imagine humane and pragmatic leadership that's adaptable to the new challenges it will undoubtedly confront. I would finally suggest that the way this particular cookie will crumble comes down less to the characteristics of the generation than the generation's recognition of the two prime characteristics of its era: unprecedented prosperity and (at least local) peace. We have been very, very lucky."

I recognise a lot of this, though some of it overlaps with Generation Y - todays 20-somethings are much more natural pluralists than the 40-somethings. But it's been a while since I heard/read a decent analysis of the post-boomer generation, and now they/we are in charge, perhaps it's time to find out a bit more. Anyone got any good thoughts/links?

DK (born 1969)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Next Stop Yarls Wood

The new Immigration Minister Damien Green has just announced the end to child detention at a centre in Scotland.

However the article goes on to say
From now on, families detained north of the Border may be sent to Dungavel to undergo initial health and welfare screening but would then be moved to Yarl’s Wood, in Bedfordshire, which has specialist family and child facilities and support services. The Pakistani family - Sehar Shebaz, and her baby daughter - whose incarceration hastened the development were due to be transferred today from Dungavel to Yarl’s Wood

This isn't good enough. Child detention at Yarls Wood must stop as well.

Why do you do it?

Struck by this entry on Nick Page's blog, on what motivates him to write:

Some years ago I read an excellent history of the Albigensian Crusade, where the church routinely lied to and slaughtered thousands of Heretics. I finished the book in an utter fury and was spluttering about it to Claire.‘When did this happen?’ she asked.‘Around 1250,’ I replied. There was a pause.‘Shouldn’t you have got over it by now?’ she said.

But no, we shouldn’t get over these things. I’ve come, more and more, to realise that it is often anger of various degrees that fuels my writing. Whether this is entirely a good thing, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not in a frothing rage all the time, I rarely lose my temper, but I do spend a lot of time grumpily snapping at the TV while my children laugh at me. At it’s best it’s a righteous anger, which is, I hope, expressed reasonably. At its worst I know I descend into tub-thumping ranting.

But you’ve got to be fuelled by something haven’t you?

Which has made me think about what fuels me. I've been a vicar, or at least been a 'rev', for 12 years. I'm looking forward to a sabbatical next year, but I'm still enjoying it, and for dozens of reasons sense that I'm in the right place and doing the right thing (as far as any sinner can be in the right place and doing the right thing).

But why? There's probably a mixture of self and vocation. I'm motivated/driven by a whole spaghetti bowl of things:
a) competitiveness. I like to win/succeed/do things well. Ask the guys I play 5-a-side with on a Sunday evening. I often have to drag myself off the sofa after a demanding day, but stick a ball and a goal (or set of stumps) in front of me, and it's surprising how quickly I start moving. Some of that's about hitting targets, achieving something, enjoying not just the game but the result.

b) Making a difference. That's always been a bit of my DNA, to want to live a life that leaves some kind of a mark, and in a good way. The chance to do/say/support/encourage things that make a positive difference to people's lives, and to their relationship with God, is what gets me out of bed in the morning. The flip side of this is that I'm sometimes too hasty to fix things, or to say things, or to wade into a discussion, when it would be better to keep my tentacles to myself.

c) Frustration. I'm both a perfectionist (though have calmed down a lot on that front) and an optimist. Both of those drives say 'things could be better than this'. So I'm very rarely content with how things are. That can be infuriating and very wearing for people around me, so I have to be careful to have a balance of consolidating and kick-starting. It's also hard work to never be satisfied, and I hope I'm learning to say 'that's ok, and it's ok that it's ok'.

d) Fun: one of my mentors sayings is 'follow the fun'. Ultimately any job or responsibility that's a cause of stress and sadness is going to suck the life out of you. I'm blessed in that, because my post was a new one 4 years ago, there wasn't a massive inherited workload, so there's been the chance to develop bits of work which I already felt motivated and passionate about. When I'm doing wedding preparation I pause at the first line of the opening prayer: "God of wonder and of joy" and explain that those are my two guiding stars for the marriage service itself. It's both a holy moment, and a joyful celebration. From what people say to me after weddings and baptisms, it's clear that fun and joy aren't emotions that they readily associate with church services. That's really sad. I love God, I love what I do, and if that sense of joy and life doesn't show itself and express itself then it really is time to go and have a long lie down.

e) Being me. Just before ordination I had a very strong sense of being ordained and called by God as myself, rather than being asked to be someone else, some kind of identikit clergyman. I'm not a great fan of 'expressing yourself', as that's become something of a modern day idol, but it's a lot easier to give 100% to something if you're giving 100% of yourself, rather than 100% of something you're not. There are still lots of things that take me out of my comfort zone - funerals particularly - but I hope that there isn't much to choose between the David Keen with his dog collar on, and the same guy with the collar off.

But enough about me (something slightly ironic about writing that phrase on my own blog!). What motivates you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fresh Expressions of Spelling

Good piece in the Times at the weekend on Fresh Expressions, surveying some of the things that are going on around the country:

A trendy internet café for surfers in north Cornwall, a skate park in Essex, a tower block in Portsmouth, a gathering of Goths in Cambridge, a Wetherspoon’s pub in Bridlington and a fishing boat in the North Sea. Is this your idea of church? Possibly not, but each is a valid “fresh expression of church” that has sprung up in the past five years.

I like this one, particularly after last weeks discussions of singing in church:

In Portsmouth, the Rev Mark Rodel, city centre pioneer minister and associate priest at St Luke’s Somerstown, has set up “The Sunday Sanctuary” in a room on the ground floor of a 19-storey high-rise in a deprived area. Styled as a “family drop-in with hospitality and storytelling”, it is far from most people’s concept of church — as he says, “we very rarely sing a song”. Since it was set up in November it has grown from a handful of people to about 40, mostly young families, who share breakfast, sit and talk together and share a story, normally bibilical in character. It is not a church as such “but has the potential to become one”.

A mysterious Bishop Clay is quoted, must be a new chap. Or could it be....?

More on this at Maggi Dawns blog.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Just to register the fact that England have just beaten Australia to win the 20/20 World Cup, fantastic effort by an excellent side. I'm very very chuffed. I think this is our first win in a world 1-day competition for 35 years or so, so it's some achievement. I just wish we could watch it on terrestrial - move over moneymen and let the plebs have a look.

'God: new evidence'

Following the launch of the Test of Faith site a few months ago, here's another web resource on issues of science and faith. God: new evidence focuses on the 'fine tuning' found in physics and cosmology, which points to a design and a Designer in the cosmos. There's a series of videos looking at some of this - one example above, you can (handily) watch the videos in 8-9 minute chunks, or smaller snippets.

It would be good to see a few more articles to complement the video clips, but still, good to see it all up there. By the way, the first main video is mainly the 'experts' introducing themselves and saying how their faith and science backgrounds interact, you only start getting into the meat of the cosmological stuff in the 2nd video.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who's Praying?

The Evangelical Alliance have collected some info from various surveys on prayer, which you can find here. Given that 'wandering thoughts' afflicts 80% of people who try to pray, so it sounds like I'm in good company. More concerning is the finding that 1/4 of ministers spend less than half an hour a week in prayer. I'm impressed by those who pray for half an hour or more a day and wish I was one of them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bible Art Collections

Blogger Matt Stone is putting together collections of art inspired by different books of the Bible. This is one of the Exodus ones, there's also a collection for Genesis and Isaiah. Early days, and I'm sure he'd appreciate any interesting links. Should be a great resource when the project's finished, but it's worth a browse already.

I'm kicking myself at only discovering this yesterday: last Sunday's service was on Isaiah 6, and this would have saved me an hour or so on Google Image searches!
Matt has a whole stack of other collections on his blog too: 'Christian Art: Alien' is a category I'd never come across before.... other collections include Animated, Goth, Tattoo, Feminist, Latin American, Political. Lots of great discussion starters...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pros and Cons (and Libdems)

I'm still not quite sure what to make of the amazing events of the last few days, but a few thoughts:

1. I'm delighted that the Conservatives and Libdems are aiming high: a coalition rather than a laissez fair 'understanding', coupled with a fixed term parliament that will lock them into it for 5 years. There appears to have been some genuine give and take over policy. For a floating voter like me, who supported roughly 30-40% of each parties policies, this only way of getting a government which delivers a majority of stuff I agree with. Of course, it could go the other way and end up with all the policies I'd oppose, but early signs are ok: no Euro, no ID cards, progressive taxation, though I did think the immigration amnesty idea had something going for it.

2. This could be good news for Labour: as the only major opposition party left, if anything does go wrong then they get 100% of the benefits, as well as plenty of time to rebuild after the end of the Blair/Brown years. It is much more high stakes for the Libdems: this kind of coalition would be the norm under PR, so if they can't make it work, any argument for PR would be holed below the waterline.

3. There are a lot of cynical voices about the coalition, and maybe it's just my optimistic temperament, but I'm not one of them. In our parish there are 2 clergy, we're quite different from each other in many ways, but know that the best way to run it is to talk things through, agree a common approach, and run things as a team. This kind of thing happens all over the place. For politicians it will be a massive culture change, but the two leaders are themselves both quite new to all this (both entered Parliament this century), and perhaps a wholesale culture change is possible. If they manage it, great.

4. Will the 'New Politics' involve the rebuilding of the House of Commons? The chamber is organised for adversarial politics, unlike many more recently built chambers which are circular or multi-sided. Maybe they should move across the road to the circular Church House synod chamber - might generate some much needed rental income for the CofE.

5. Will the spirit of co-operation infect the media too? Like the House chamber, the press is based on adversarial politics. Come to think of it, not just the press: the spirit of Paxman lurks over everything from the Apprentice to Dragons Den to the X Factor, we love our bear pits. What happens if politics tries to move out of the bear pit and refuses to offer routine bloodletting for public entertainment? Will it be allowed to? Can journalists act like grown ups too? I would love to see a change of political culture - and culture in general - to something less adversarial. Perhaps that's enough to hope for. As Simon Parke puts it in his cracker of a book Desert Child

"The message... is that we turn our attention to the Great Possibility, the Grand Miracle, the Massive Moment, the Huge Resurrection"

"And what is that?"

"That we might actually do what we're doing with a little more kindness."


"That we might actually do what we're doing with a little more kindess?" Musselly was checking that he had heard aright. Peter, however, confirmed the astounding declaration.

"Indeed. That we might do what we're doing, only with a little more kindness."

The earth stopped revolving for a moment in shock as the two men considered the implications of the words just spoken; as the two men felt the fall-out from the bombshell just lobbed into the conversation. The visitor spoke first.

"Now that is a very revolutionary thought, my friend."

6. It's a good way to bury bad policies: there are a few duffers and vote-losers in there which can be quietly shelved in the name of compromise, on both sides. If both sides of an argument are represented within a government, then someone somewhere is right, and hopefully no party is arrogant enough to think it has all the answers.

7. It's important not to get carried away. Tony Blair wasn't the Messiah, at times he was just a very naughty boy, and neither are these two. There are some things that politicians can't fix: I was in a meeting recently over a local trouble spot, and the overwhelming feeling was one of impotence over the ability of local government, agencies, etc. to do anything significant to change things. Bill Hybels writes:

"For 8 years during the '90s I went to Washington DC every month to meet in the foremost centres of power with some of the highest elected officials in our country. What I discovered was not how powerful those people are, but how limited their power really is. All they can actually do is rearrange the yard markers on the playing field of life (I'm guessing that's an Americanism). They can't change a human heart. They can't heal a wounded soul. They can't turn hatred into love. They can't bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace. They can't get to the core problem of the kid I saw in the airport (an 8 year old boy punching his 5 year old brother in the face then bashing his head into the floor) and millions of others like him.

I scrolled through every other option I could think of, considering what they have to offer. Businessmen can provide sorely needed jobs. Wise educators can teach useful knowledge of the world. Self-help programs can offer effective methods of behaviour modification. Psychology can aid self-understanding. And all of this is good. But can any of it truly transform the human heart?"

So we carry on praying for our leaders, and I'll be praying that it works - that's partly the optimist in me that likes to see people trying something new, and partly the knowledge that if it doesn't work then that won't really do anyone any good.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Songs Please, We're Blokeish

Church Mouse has a snippet from a survey done by Sorted magazine, on mens attitudes to church. It finds that 2/3 of them feel uncomfortable in church (more than would feel uncomfortable in a lingerie shop: Thongs 2 Songs 1), and the most off putting thing is singing, which again 2/3 feel uncomfortable about.

The findings aren't too surprising, when I think about the response of the average wedding congregation to being asked to sing 'All things Bright and Beautiful'. Again. Most churches seem almost designed to put people off: big dark forbidding doors, no jolly signs outside, seating reminiscent of a Victorian classroom etc. You have to work quite hard to make it feel comfortable.

the trouble is that we know this but we don't do anything about it. I don't think the answer is to scrap singing, but there might be other ways of doing things. Another church in Somerset started up a pub group: short Bible passage and discussion questions on a laminated 'menu' card, pints round a table to talk about it, and prayer requests shared at the end. Speaking of pubs, and making men welcome, Banksyboy is worth a read.

We only have 1 recorded instance of Jesus and the disciples singing, the rest of the time they walk, talk, do things and go fishing. Each to their own. I'd rather visit a lingerie shop than go fishing. Which just goes to show that when it comes to men, you can't generalise. There's also a danger of portraying an ideal 'mans man' image - of which there's a hint in Sorted - which many men may feel they don't measure up to. Just as most women aren't Scarlett Johansson, most men aren't Bear Grylls. And that's ok.

Update: more discussion of this over at Tall Skinny Kiwi.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"I feel that you are closer to God when you are messed up"

Somehow I ended up with a copy of the Observer at the weekend, which carried a thought-provoking interview with actress Samantha Morton. Some of it is quite tough reading, and what Morton says about her faith is quite striking.

'Lucy' is a character in The Unloved, a film she co-wrote and directed, an 11 year old whose experience of abuse and childrens homes mirrors Morton's own childhood. Morton comments:

...there is an element of Lucy that is about the true nature of Catholicism. She prays for people, even the people who have harmed her. She forgives." Is she saying that she was like that as a child? "In a way, yes. Catholicism played such a huge part in my life, I would not have survived without my faith."

How did it manifest itself? "I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I felt watched over as a kid." But did she never feel angry with God for letting these things happen to her? "No. Never. I was angry but not at God. I feel that you are closer to God when you are messed up. Definitely. That's when you most need God, and God cannot control what man does."

Does she still have her faith? Is she religious? "I'm not a Bible thumper, and I don't want to go on about this because it will always be misinterpreted, but I have a wonderful joy in my life and that is that I have always believed in God. I just have and I think I'm lucky. Some people question that faith but, when you are little, and you find something as powerful as that, you do not question it. It's what got me through it all."

Some people seem to endure horrific experiences and can't forgive God for not intervening. Others like Morton have those experiences but seem to end up with a stronger faith. I have no idea what makes the difference. To say that faith is simply a gift might be the answer, but it also sounds like a cop-out. Why do some get the gift and not others?

Other comment: the language of being 'watched over' is very common, in my limited experience it's one of the most frequent ways that people talk about God. I guess it comes out strongly with baptism families, the notion that a strong and protective God is watching over your small and vulnerable child. For weddings, very few couples believe they've come together by accident, the language of 'meant to be' hints at someone/thing having a hand in things.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Doctor Who and the Premier League

It's either consistency, or a scriptwriter running out of ideas, but in 2 recent Dr Who episodes, the alien of the week has used a cloaking device to disguise themselves as humans. Back in David Tennants swansong, it was green cacti humanoids, and on Saturday it was the turn of the fish from outer space who'd settled in medieval Venice.

More on that story later. But what if other things are using a cloaking device too? What happens, for example, if we disable the one used by footballs' Premier League? Here's the final table.

1. Mammon
2. Mammon United
3. Mammon
4. Mammon Hotspur
5. Mammon City
6. Mammon Villa (but see first comment)
7. Mammon
8. Mammon
9. Mammon City
10. Mammon Rovers
11. Mammon City
12. Mammon
13. Mammon
14. Mammon Wanderers
15. Mammon Wanderers
16. Mammon Athletic
17. Mammon Ham United
18. Mammon
19. Mammon
20. Mammon (or -Mammon, to be more accurate)

Back to the fish people. They'd hit a snag, having run out of females, so their idea was to (avoid if squeamish) drain the blood of earth women and replace it with their own, which would turn them into female fish folk. Given the origin of several of the above teams as social/youth projects, one has to wonder something of the original spirit of football has been drained out. What transfusion process has happened at the top tier of the 'beautiful game'?

Final connection: on Sunday we looked at Isaiah 6 - there's a change of government (the king has died) so Isaiah goes to pray. He sees God as he really is (awesome beyond words), through that he sees himself as he really is (sinful beyond words), but once the divine X-rays have revealed his own heart, Isaiah is then cleaned up and commissioned to be part of the solution. Seeing things as they truly are is how we diagnose sickness, and find the way back to health. If we'd switched off the cloaking device on the debt crunch and the housing bubble, perhaps we'd be in less mess now. I note that it's quietly being reactivated in the hope that nobody will notice.

Regular readers will know that I prefer cricket to football, and I'm fearful of the same tranfusion there. Will Yorkshire always be Yorkshire? Already their ground is named after a sponsor, though at least the sponsor is educational...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Rankety Rank

Anyone wondering where the Wikio religious blog rankings have gone (both of you), can rest easy, Church Mouse has picked up the scent, and has the latest list. For earlier lists, follow the bookmark below. Mouse also compiles an occasional Twurch of England Twitter ranking, so there is a happy convergance of all things listy at Mouse Towers (or Mouse Holes, or whatever Church Mouse campaign HQ is called).

Meanwhile, I'm busy trying to put a government together. Well, there's got to be a plan Z if the politicians don't manage to come up with anything. Strangely, I'm quite cheered by the thought of politicians talking to each other and working together across the party divide: I'm sure truth, justice and common sense are no respecters of political dividing lines, and I'd rather see them try to work as a team than not bother at all. My worry is that it doesn't get past public posturing and private political calculations, to genuine sitting down and thrashing things through.

As for 'the markets' setting a timetable for when we need to get a PM, my first thought is a rude one. I don't recall anyone voting for them.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Latest Opinion Polls: Part 2

A few more of the latest opinion polls, many of them commissioned by the Sun but never published (allegedly). I've left a few of the timings in, for a bit of context. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or join in the fun on Twitter

#latestopinionpoll Change, change change 35% turn, turn, turn, 27% Tora! Tora! Tora! 29% Oi! Oi! Oi! 1%

#latestopinionpoll seat projections - Con: Hot Seat, Lab: Ejector Seat, LibDem: Moral High Chair, Bercow: Naughty Step.

#latestopinionpoll chance of seeing: George Osborne 5% Vince Cable 6% Hazel Blears -5% Window Dressing 1% Charles Clarke 1% now, 90% on Sat. about 11 hours ago from TweetDeck

@gerrardus: #latestopinionpoll Dont Know 35% Dont Care 21% Dont Dare 16% Dont Count 75% about 12 hours ago from TweetDeck

#latestopinionpoll Bird in the Hand 66% Bird in the Bush 33%

theblogofkevin: HVIGNFY #latestopinionpoll for PM: Ian Hislop 20%, Paul Merton cheese and tomato, Libel Lawyers 30%, Weekly Guest Host 50% about 22 hours ago from web

RT @deiknuo: #latestopinionpoll too tired to put together a government on Friday? David Cameron 40% Gordon Brown 35% Nick Clegg 25% about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

theblogofkevin: Quite Interesting #latestopinionpoll to run the country: Stephen Fry 40% Alan Davies 30% Jo Brand 15% Bill Bailey 10% any politician 5% 1 day ago from Twitterrific

#latestopinionpoll Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 36% X Factor 30% Total Wipeout 26% CBeebieNP 2% 1 day ago from TweetDeck

latestopinionpoll swingometer 26% swing low sweet chariot 50% (0% in Scotland) swing and a prayer 24% swingeing cuts £75bn

#latestopinionpoll staying afloat 35% tactical vote 30% resignation note 25%

#latestopinionpoll Floating 20% Voting 68% Gloating 38% Emoting 23%

gerrardus: #LatestOpinionPoll Morris Men 35% Mori's Men 31% Mirror Men 28% 2 days ago from TweetDeck

@marvovox #latestopinionpoll flying fig 25%; flying pig 29%; flying the flag 10%; grounded by #ashtag 36%. Roll on Friday!

kouya: #latestopinionpoll Gorden Brown 5%, Golden Brown 25%, No More Heroes 50%, Go Buddy Go 20%

devil you know 20% devil you don't 20% deep blue C 20% supping with a long spoon 40%

Nick Robinson 5% Heath Robinson 25% Mrs Robinson 70% Swiss (tax exile) Family Robinson 0% rate

davidmkeen: #latestopinionpoll Blair? 20% BLAIR! 20% Blur 20% Back to normal 20% WMD contingency 20% 5 days ago from web

#latestopinionpoll Exclusive 36% Inclusive 31% Reclusive 25% Abusive 2% 5 days ago from web

Ordinandy: #latestopinionpoll Frankie Says Relax; Simon Says tap your nose; Confucius say Man who eat many prunes get good run for money. 6 days ago from web

Ordinandy: #latestopinionpoll Conservative supporters say Cameron 100% Lib Dems say Clegg 100% Labourites say Brown 100% 6 days ago from web

robinsons: #LatestOpinionPoll 155% Education 58% Education 239% Education 6 days ago from Tweetings

@gerrardus: #latestopinionpoll Liverpool Game 70% Rushden Game 25% Fulham Game 4% #LeadersDebate 1%

new labour 42% labour intensive 35% hard labour 27% new leader 22%

Sinner 22% Spinner 3% Sue 0% Sky -50% Casting the first stone 100% #bigotgate

@gerrardus Blue 34% Yellow 30% Red in the Face 29%

Election Day thoughts

Soul Politics has already had most of the thoughts I was going to have, excellent post and analysis of some of the key issues. So I'll save you time and not write anything.

Meanwhile the BBC has produced an election night party pack, if you were planning on staying up, and had any friends. I really hope the BBC gets its act together this evening, the last results show I watched on there was dreadful. I imagine Twitter will be a much better way of keeping up with what's really going on, but it doesn't have a decent Swingometer.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Vote with your Heart. Or perhaps your Liver.

It's make your mind up time

sources here, here, and here. Much better than real election posters.

On the subject of voting with parts of your body, apparently the Sun has an army of Page 3 girls on show today (scroll to the 9.15am entry), with the message that Labour and the Libdems may conspire to remove exploitation of the female body from mass market tabloids. Somehow this is a reason to vote for Cameron: Vote Tory, Get Totty. Don't Vote with your Head, Vote with your Genitals. No thanks.

Now, back to serious analysis of the issues.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Deciding Who to Vote For

Having trouble deciding who to vote for? There's sophisticated things like this* which show you whose policies you most agree with.

Or for something simpler:

Ht Mike Smithson

*mind you, I didn't go all the way through it so, being the Telegraph, it probably tells you to vote Conservative whatever your choices.

Monday, May 03, 2010

"My Name is Malcolm Tucker. I Was in a Casting Accident and Woke Up in AD 1"

Could be interesting: Life on Mars writer Tony Jordan is scripting a version of the Nativity story, to be broadcast in 4 half-hour episodes on the BBC this Christmas.

The production will focus on the love story between Mary and Joseph and their "emotional turmoil" over her pregnancy. says the blurb. Hopefully there'll be something about God in there too, given that He's right at the centre of what both Mary (Luke's gospel) and Joseph (Matthew) thought was going on.

Among the several 'names' in the cast is The Thick of It's Peter Capaldi, best remembered by some of us for Local Hero, as a wise man. I already have mental images of Balthasar barking into his mobile "Camels? Which ****** had the ********** to come up with that one?"

Ben Stephenson, controller, BBC drama commissioning, said: "We are proud to bring audiences this beautiful story retold for Christmas 2010 by a master storyteller.

"We hope our version of the nativity will give audiences all the wonder, magic and inspiration of the original while also telling a less familiar tale, that of ordinary people going about their lives with no sense of the enormous importance their story would hold for centuries to come."

I maintain that its impossible to retell this story with any integrity unless God is right at the centre of it, whether he's right at the centre for the writer, producers, broadcasters or not. So we'll see. The Easter serial starring Joseph Mawle a couple of years back did a decent job (though a strange ending), and I'm always hopeful....

Sunday, May 02, 2010

SPCK bookshops - a few loose pages

The saga of the former SPCK bookshops wound up fairly rapidly last year following the takeover of the governing charity by the Charity Commissioners, and the closure of the remaining former SPCK bookshops, with Durham making a last stand until the roof beginning to fall in in the Great Kitchen (bit of a metaphor, that) precipitated the closure of the final remaining shop.

A couple of recent developments which might be of interest to folk who've followed all this -
1. The St Stephen the Great charity is being kept under charity commisioners control, and all the tribunal settlements (over £300k) with former staff have been made.

2. The SSG company registered at Companies House has been dissolved.

3. From the sound of it, the re-opened Durham Cathedral shop will need regular encouragement from customers if it's to return to being a top quality theological stockist. Building problems don't help, and I guess the loss of Tom Wright for high profile book launches won't help either, but it would be sad if it just became another cathedral tat shop for fudge and postcards. There are too many of those already.

4. There may be some kind of meet up at the Christian Resources Exhibition later this month in Sandown.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

'5 things parents need to know about exam time'

Another handy little list from Care for the Family, who consistently produce great resources for parents and marriage. Here's a couple of the 5 things:

4. Remember they will need down-time
Everyone needs to plan in regular breaks as they work or study, otherwise their quality of work will suffer. A good ratio is that for every hour you revise, you take a ten-minute break. But it's also good for these breaks to be very different from work - so if your child has spent an hour on the computer, ten minutes playing a computer game may not be the best way to take a break.
It will also help your child to build in time and space to relax. Something energetic like swimming or going for a walk may be beneficial, as exercise helps mood-boosting endorphins get into our bloodstream.

They will feel better if they know they have 'permission' to relax - so encourage them by telling them they have been working hard and have earned a break. This will help lower their stress levels. A good motto that shows the importance of getting the balance right is 'work hard; play hard'.

5. Remember to make sure they know you love them
During exam times children may feel more insecure than usual. If they know that you place great importance on their performance in exams, they may feel under pressure to do well. Help them have a healthy view of success and failure, and look for opportunities to praise character and effort, and not just achievement.

Remember to tell your kids frequently that you love them - however they do in their exams. Tell them that doing well in exams is only one part of life: there are other things that are more important - like character, integrity, honesty and caring for others.

Let them know they have worth and value beyond any academic achievement. By doing this you will set them free from the weight of expectations, and enable them to face their exams with confidence and courage

Care for the Family produce a regular e-newsletter with summaries of new articles, events, initiatives and resources. Very handy if supporting families is one of your aims. I think they've had to lay off a few staff with the debt crunch hitting giving, which is sad news - some of the CFF stuff I've heard and read has been absolutely invaluable.