Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Evasive Action

 “Poetry may make us a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate, for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.” TS Eliot.

I heard this quoted by Gordon MacDonald a few months ago, reflecting on the fall of King David, and our habit of running away from our past rather than repairing it. It's one of those quotes which has latched on to me and won't let go, so I've a feeling it's not finished with me yet. I do find it easier to be active than reflective, and to fill time with distractions/stuff rather than letting myself settle.

One of the reasons I avoid myself is fear. I was quite nervous getting ready for a 7 day silent retreat back in May, partly it was fear of what God might do to me once He got me alone for 7 days without my Seven Dwarves (Twitter, internet, TV, Wii, Books, background music, comfort snacking) to provide junk consolation. It turned out much better than I expected. But I'm still falling back into the old evasive actions, and still haven't done what I promised I'd do after hearing Macdonalds words. For 6 months I've intended to go back through my life story, asking God to show me where the knots and wounds are, and to help me face up to them. And I'm still avoiding it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Doctor Who Gets Religion: Or Does It?

The rebooted Doctor Who franchise has always drawn heavily on religious imagery and ideas, from a giant fiery devil figure in The Satan Pit to the climax of the David Tennant/Master showdown where the entire world prays for the Doctor (via the 'Archangel' satellite) and he's effectively resurrected and transfigured all in one go, and then bestows forgiveness on his mortal enemy.

The current series doesn't show any signs of letting off. The mid-series cliffhanger introduced the Headless Monks (bad) and the 'Clerics' - the church has become a military unit, though it's not quite clear who they answer to. 'Lets Kill Hitler' had several religious allusions too:
 - River Song poisons the Doctor with a kiss, the poison is revealed to come from the Judas Tree. No prizes for guessing where they got that one from.
 - The Silence is revealed to be a religious order, not merely a species.
 - River is cared for in a hospital run by nuns, the Sisters of the Infinite Schism. Great name. Think I know some of those.

With the religious thing thrown in about the Silence on top of the Headless Monks, the current impression is that this batch of Doctor Who writers lean towards the 'Religion is Bad and Dangerous' pole, which, to be fair, is probably the view of most people. The name given to the nuns suggests they are on the margins of religion - suggesting it's here that you find good, not at the centre.

Does Doctor Who get religion? It clearly gets the power of religion to command allegiance, but that's mostly portrayed in a negative way. Institutional religion is armed (the clerics) and dangerous. It'll be interesting to see where the whole Silence part of the story goes. Many of the good bits - e.g. elements of the life of Jesus, prayer, resurrection, life after death (e.g. Silence in the Library, which could have been written by N T Wright*) are all Doctored to retain their appeal but turn them into sci-fi.

I've written so much stuff on this blog that I can't remember if I've made this observation before, but it's remarkable to see the transformation in the sci-fi genre. From the thoroughly humanist Star Trek, sci-fi and fantasy have become the genre of choice for exploring spiritual issues. With the demise of the Biblical epic, and the blockbusting precedent of Star Wars, if soap operas are where our society holds up a mirror to its morality, sci fi and fantasy movies are where we hold up a mirror to our souls. Jesus figures abound, from Gandalf to Harry Potter to the Doctor himself, issues of destiny, prayer, life and death, character, the nature of evil, and the great rules/powers/persons that govern the universe, it's all there.

What's being said, well, that's debatable.........

*Silence in the Library has a 'resurrection to eternal life' based on using an advanced computer chip to store all the vital data about a person. After they die physically, this data is uploaded to a giant computer, where the dead enjoy a new virtual life, dressed in white (really? you don't say...) and reunited with their loved ones. This bears a striking similarity to an image used by Wright to describe how the resurrection works.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Yeovil Ninja. Yes, Really.

Update 31.8: he's been on Channel 4 too. Catch it via 4 on demand for the next couple of days.
Well, it's not quite Street Pastors, but the chap seems to have his heart in the right place. (Vid is on the BBC site, so I can't put it on here)

I shall be watching the undergrowth more closely from now on. And good to see he's patrolling Ninesprings: had my own run-in with a group of foul-mouthed teens there a few months ago, who were driving every family away from the park with their language and behaviour. Next time I'll call The Shadow.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Health and Safety Artwork

For your enjoyment. Particularly like what they've done to the Mona Lisa. For anyone under 40, Vision On was a kids TV programme, and yes, this is what it was like (though I'm not entirely sure about the sign language). From this lot.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nintendo Wii: My Sims - Introducing your 3 year old to occult and voodoo

My Sims: it looked like a good game for our kids to play in the summer hols on the Wii. Create a character, build a town, watch a community develop, unlock various levels, etc. etc. So far so good.

Then we unlocked 'level 3', and some odd things started going on. In My Sims, the characters who move in to your town each have a main characteristic: there are 6 to choose from. Fun, Tasty (food), Cute, Studious and Geeky were fine, Spooky we just avoided. The trouble is that if you get Spooky characters living next door to each other, guess what? They hold a seance. And they invite you to join in.

That's right. This is a game which, according to the box, is suitable for 3 year olds upwards. And the characters in it are getting together around an ouija board to contact the dead - and succeeding. Following the seance, a ghost moves in. By the looks of it, you can do this in other My Sims spin-offs, like Kingdom or Agents.

But just in case your kids aren't having nightmares by this stage, or learning what fun it is to try to contact the dead, they can go prospecting in the 'desert' area. There, they'll find among other things voodoo dolls (scroll down to the 'scary' essences). Now these may have had a makeover since I last heard of them, but the basic idea of a voodoo doll is that through torturing the doll, the person it represents is themselves tortured in a way which mirrors what you've done to the doll. Again, a lovely idea for a 3 year old to take on board.

Once I've got over the outrage, shock and sheer disbelief at this idiocy, I'll be writing to Nintendo, though I'm sure (I hope!!) that I won't be the first. It's pretty sick to have a major global brand aiming games at toddlers which normalise playing with the occult, and activities which can lead to all sorts of spiritual messes. Woe to those who cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Health and Safety: a Refresher

The Health and Safety Executive is clearly afraid of getting closed down in the next quango cull, putting out the story yesterday that many daft health and safety decisions (like this one) weren't justified. A review of H&S legislation is due in October, and I guess the Executive knows that its role, or even existence, might be reviewed too.

Here's what they said: complying with health and safety regulations was often used as a "convenient excuse" for organisations to justify unnecessary decisions.

Now where have we seen that before? Oh yes, secular councils airbrushing all Christian references from their local community on the pretext that it might offend someone of another faith, even though nobody of another faith had ever complained.

In the meantime, it's a great excuse to repost this video, which tells you all you need to know.

apologies to any Health and Safety professionals out there. More stuff like it here.

How to Stay No.1 Cricket Team: my top 5.

It's been fantastic to watch England steamrollering every team before them over the last 12 months. Bedtime stories with the kids have been replaced by an hour in front of the cricket highlights, and even as I write they are leafing through my old copies of Wisden looking up cricketing records. Result.

So a big well done to this England side, who have already more than surpassed the 2005 Ashes heroes by taking victory over Australia in their stride, and then doing even better in the months following.

Strauss is already talking about the winter tests against Sri Lanka and Pakistan; this England succeed consistently because they can give a series their all, whilst keeping their eye on the longer term.

Thankfully for everyone, I'm not an England selector, but here's a few thoughts on what we need to stay on top of:

1. Find a good opening batsman. Strauss totally deserves the 4 months break he's now going to get before the winter. He has presided over a dramatic rise in Englands fortunes, and deserves every minute of celebration, and of rest. But Strauss has started shelling catches at an alarming rate, and age is not on his side - he'll be 35 by the start of next summer. He'll retire a hero in the next couple of years, and Cook will need a new partner.

Longer term, Bell, Trott and Pietersen are 29, 30 and 31 respectively, and all at the top of their game. Fast forward 3-4 years and they will be an ageing unit, and England will need to find a way to blood quality middle-order players. Some will slot in straight away - Trott has been a phenomenal example -  but if others, like Bell (e.g Bopara?), need a few years to really hit their stride, it could be difficult.

2. Beat South Africa. India came to England off the back of a tour to the West Indies, with several players not match fit, and didn't have enough games to prepare themselves. Having said all that, to roll over the Indian batting line-up 7 times out of 8 for less than 300 was phenomenal. South Africa remain as the only proper contender for the top spot in Test cricket. Smith, Kallis, Amla and DeVilliers are all quality batsmen, Steyn and Morkel are top-ranked bowlers. The tragedy is that, thanks to ICC scheduling, the SA tour of England in 2012 has only 3 tests. With 5 ODI's and 3 2020s, there is scope for some meaningless 1 day cricket to be scrapped and replaced by what people really want to see, a 5 test series between two well-matched teams. I hope negotiations have already started.

3. Bowlers who can bat. India collapsed in spectacular fashion to lose the final test - you can't imagine this England batting line-up doing that. Who would you rather see coming out to bat at 300-6, RP Singh or Tim Bresnan? The current England numbers 8-11 average a combined total of 109.87 between them. The second choice 8-11 (Tremlett, Finn, Onions, Panesar) average around 40 combined. Injuries to bowlers are as regular as Boycott's opinions, so the likes of Woakes, Patel, Rashid, etc. are vital. England have replaced a bowling all-rounder (Flintoff) with a bowling unit who can all bat. Having raised the bar on the fielding skills of bowlers (step forward Jimmy Anderson), can England maintain the batting strength too?

4. Injury: the perpetual problem. All of the current England bowling attack have been out of the game injured in the last 12 months. The sheer quantity and remorselessness of the international calender guarantees that there will be more injuries, or people who cannot take the grinding mental strain of performing at peak level every month of the year. There will be more Trescothicks and Yardys. England's selectors need the equivalent of a replacement 11 on standby, and more due care and attention to scheduling and workload. I still don't think we've paid attention to the alarm bells. International cricket is consistently losing talent to injury (wouldn't the winter Ashes have been more of a contest with Shaun Tait in the mix?), and Englands team will do the same unless things change.

5. Keeping 2020 in perspective. There's no doubt that England have benefited this summer from the IPL, in both series. Malingas withdrawal from Test cricket to follow the money, and the jaded Indians are both traceable to the dollars now available for whiz-bang cricket. Nobody remembers who was the best one day team in the 1980s, but they do remember the West Indian test team. Nobody will remember who was the best 2020 team in 2011-15, but they will remember if England consistently dominate Test cricket. Yes it's good to have a successful one day side, but to really succeed England need to keep this in perspective. We will be kicking ourselves if Broad breaks down in a meaningless 2020 series and isn't available against South Africa next year.

And Finally
6. Stay out of Boycotts way. 3 England batsmen are closing in on Boycotts record of the most Test centuries scored by an England batsman. Pietersen, Cook and Strauss all stand on 19, Boycott is on 22, and Bell is closing fast on 16. By this time next year, Boycott will no longer be top of the charts. I'm sure he'll have something to say about that, and if not, Aggers will. Repeatedly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Firing a Gun into the Air

Firing a gun into the air seems to be the standard Arab Spring/summer celebration, despite the associated hazards. You can see it as a joyous celebration, a macho display, or a pointless waste of ammo, depending on your point of view. But it reminds me of something else.

I was commended the other day for 'preaching the gospel' during a Sunday sermon. That's evangelical shorthand for taking time to talk about our blocked relationship with God, and the unique way in which Jesus restores it through the cross. There is a strong evangelical pedigree for doing this, and it's a good thing to do: it's good to be reminded of how God has saved us through Jesus, and most newcomers to the church don't come with a fully-formed grasp of the Christian faith.

However, 'preaching the gospel' is just firing a gun into the air if it's not grounded in people's lives. I'm struck by the fact that Jesus never says the same thing to anyone who comes to talk to him. Every single enquirer is met with a different response. Very few of them are given a forensic, step-by-step account of atonement theory.

If 'the gospel', the message about Jesus, isn't rooted in the lives of the people we are talking with, then we are simply firing a gun into the air. We might be satisfied that we've done what we're supposed to do, but it won't actually do anyone any good. It may even do some collateral damage, if people hear what purports to be the Christian message, but presented in a way that makes it completely irrelevant to them. If the good news is delivered without a lifestyle or a community which shows this 'good news' in action, then it wounds people's capacity to respond well.

Picking up on yesterdays post, we only gain permission to speak if we've taken time to listen. If we speak without listening, we are not preaching the gospel, we're just firing a gun into the air.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who do people say that I am?

As part of yesterdays sermon, I set our folks a challenge for the week: to find out from one of their friends/neighbours/work colleagues etc. what they thought about Jesus.

Jesus' question to the disciples in Matthew 16 (which lots of Anglicans will have preached on/listened to yesterday), 'who do people say that I am?' has a subtext. It's 'have you been listening?' The disciples won't be able to answer the question, unless they've been listening to other people.

Jesus then wants to know if they've made up their own minds ('who do you say that I am?') rather than just going for whichever opinion is top in the polls. But my hunch is that any disciple of Jesus needs to have an answer to both questions. We need to listen to what other people are saying, and we need to make up our own minds.

If we only have an answer to the first question, we risk living as chameleons to the latest cultural shift. If we only have an answer to the second, we risk creating our own bubble with Jesus, floating free from real engagement with others, a bubble Jesus has no interest in. All disciples are sent into the world just like Jesus was, not to shout at it (which is a good way to avoid the hard work of listening), but to serve it.

And my interest at the moment is the on-the-ground evidence. It's easy to guess at what people might think about Jesus. But what do the people we speak to every day really think about him, if anything at all?

answers on a comments form please.....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Boring vs Dangerous

"A person with a sense of history and no sense of destiny is no doubt a very boring fellow; a person with a sense of destiny and no sense of history is a very dangerous fellow."

Richard Chartres, from an excellent Guardian piece the other day. Sorry, it seems to be Guardian weekend here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monks Develop Alternative Cure for Looting

from the Guardian.

A group of Franciscan friars furious at the theft of bibles from their church in Florence have taken the unusual step of praying for the thief to be struck down by diarrhoea.

Friars at the 15th century church of San Salvatore al Monte, which was a favourite of Michelangelo, were irritated when a rare and expensive bible disappeared from the lectern, and they flew off the handle when a replacement bible donated by a worshipper also went missing and within a few hours.

In a note, pinned up in full view of worshippers, the friars say they hope the thief sees the error of his ways. But in case he does not, they add: "We pray to God that the thief is struck by a strong bout of the s***s."

This turn of events will, they hope, "encourage him to carry out no further thefts".

Described by La Stampa newspaper as "the product of the Tuscan ability to be ironic about anything", the note and its unorthodox request will be forgiven, claim one of the friars. "It is not exactly clean language," the friar said, "but we couldn't put up with it any longer. The Lord and the faithful will understand."

Could be a good idea, the loo can be quite a productive reading environment.

Friday, August 19, 2011

If Only We'd Listened to Rowan

From that New Statesman editorial back in June:

"I don't think that the government's commitment to localism and devolved power is simply a cynical walking-away from the problem. But I do think that there is confusion about the means that have to be willed in order to achieve the end.

If civil society organisations are going to have to pick up responsibilities shed by government, the crucial questions are these.

- First, what services must have cast-iron guarantees of nationwide standards, parity and continuity? (Look at what is happening to youth services, surely a strategic priority.)

 - Second, how, therefore, does national government underwrite these strategic "absolutes" so as to make sure that, even in a straitened financial climate, there is a continuing investment in the long term, a continuing response to what most would see as root issues: child poverty, poor literacy, the deficit in access to educational excellence, sustainable infrastructure in poorer communities (rural as well as urban), and so on? What is too important to be left to even the most resourceful localism?"

The Coalition response back in June, in a time-frame so rapid it could almost be called 'knee-jerk' (© Ed Milliband) was fairly dismissive. Perhaps Nick Clegg should invite the AB of C to contribute to the latest government listening exercise.

I heard earlier this week of similar problems at the other end of the age spectrum. The resources available for home visits and support for the vulnerable elderly are drying up. It may be that an army of well-meaning volunteers steps into the breach, or simply that people rediscover what it means to be a good neighbour.

But these folks aren't going to riot to draw national attention to themselves (where do octegenarians riot anyway? Boots? Pilates?) Here too, there need to be 'cast iron guarantees of standards and continuity'. But will the vulnerable elderly get this, or does someone need to start kicking off about it?
PS sorry about the font, seems to have a mind of its own.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Insights from the Front Line

I'm working my way through the new Fresh Expressions DVD 'Making a Difference', which I'll review in a week or two (short review: it's good). But here are some quotes I wrote down from some of the church planters and pioneers.

“the greatest tragedy of our time is that we have kept our pews but we have lost our children”
“I love trying new things so I’m quite used to trying things that don’t work. Failure is the back door to success...We’re in a period of constant experiment..I don’t think that people are willing enough to say ‘this thing should stop’…I love starting things, but I love stopping things as well.” (Steve Tilley)
discipleship "is not so much a syllabus that people need to be taken through but a way of life that needs to be caught"
“I knew that it was really important to listen well, to listen well to God in prayer… and then listening to other people and to the context of the situation”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Whole Reason Jesus Founded the Church in the First Place

Ht Mike Breen.

this was shown at New Wine and I've been scouring the web for it since. All we've got to do now is to put it into practice. Simples!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Family Values

Having taken time out from church stuff during the sabbatical, I'm very challenged by this:

"Many of my 'minister friends speak fo church as something from which they must seek solace. They 'protect' their day off and guard the privacy of their home. They feel the loneliness of ministry, looking outside the local church for people who will pastor tham and events that will refresh them.

For me, church is where I find solace. The Christian community pastors and refreshes me through the word of God. Someone put it so us like this: "If I were to say I needed a weekly day off from my wife and children, people would say I had a dysfunctional marriage. So why, if I say I need a day off from church, do people not ask whether I have a dysfunctional church family?" "
(Tim Chester 'Total Church' p121)

Of course, that's not all there is to it: I quite relish a day with my wife and kids after a week of funerals, admin meetings, sermon preparation, and an array of wedding and baptism preparation meetings with people who I'm (mostly) unlikely to have any long-term relationship with.

But at the same time it challenges my casual use of the term 'church family'. It feels a bit like 'community' - a label which, if we keep sticking it back on often enough, might (we think) stand a tiny chance of being partially true.

Chester argues that our relationships in the church aren't really close enough, particularly that of church leaders with church members. Writing on discipleship, he notes that most discipleship happens not through formal settings (sermon, course, small group) but informally, in response to the stuff of daily life.

That's only possible if people are actually sharing daily life together in some way. Simply turning up for a sermon once a week isn't going to 'make disciples'.

if anyone's read this far, what do you think?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where is God?

The higlight of my recent sabbatical was a week at St. Beunos, a Christian prayer retreat in North Wales. It's run by the Jesuits, a Catholic order, and featured on The Big Silence, a BBC programme last autumn. As a result of the programme, their retreats are booked out for the whole of this year.

At the heart of the prayer retreat was a 45 minute chat with a spiritual director, who would suggest some prayer exercises for me to do each day. One of these would involve meditating on a Bible passage by imagining my way into it: to identify a character in the story and imagine being in the story from that persons perspective, or simply to imagine being in the story myself. Another would be an imaginitive prayer exercise: on a couple of occasions I was encouraged to 'go for a walk with Jesus'. That meant arranging a time and place to meet Him, and to imagine throughout the walk that Jesus was physically next to me. I ended up opening gates for Him, walking to one side so that there was space for both of us on the road (the roads are narrow in North Wales!), and adjusting my speed when I sensed I was 'losing' Jesus by walking too fast.

I found all of this very fruitful, whilst being aware that I rarely have the leisure in prayer to simply use my imagination. It's much more controllable to pray set prayers, work through a list of things to pray for, and formulate my own prayers, rather than let my (rather more chaotic) imagination run the show.

As an evangelical, I'm trained to base prayers on reason. God is found in the Word, in the left brain, prayer is based on who God is (revealed in words) and what God has said (ditto), and is verbal. Ignatian prayer is more 'right brain', and uses the imagination. Both reason and imagination can be flaky, and I came back from the walks wondering whether I'd been for a walk with Jesus, or just imagined I'd been for a walk with Jesus. Then I wondered whether perhaps both had happened, and it didn't have to be an either/or.

Now when I pray, I'm finding it increasingly helpful to identify where Jesus is in the room (yes, that sounds odd), so that I can talk to him, rather than formulating sentences in my head and hoping they're going in the right direction. And I'm still working all this out. But in my head I can hear the spiritual directors Polish accent saying 'where are you Lord?' and it's now a question I like to ask Jesus regularly. Trying to discern where Jesus is so that I can pray, and where Jesus is in the things of the day, is all pretty new, but it also seems to have some 'life' to it. I went on sabbatical with a key goal of rediscovering my relationship with God, in a way that wasn't bound up with my identity as a vicar, and I think God's answered that prayer.

Now as I read through all this, I wonder if it would have made sense to the me of 4 months ago, and I don't really know!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Where to Start?

“You cannot cure the souls of others or ‘help people’ without having changed yourself.

You cannot put in order the spiritual structure of others so long as there is chaos in our own soul.

You cannot bring peace to others if you do not have it yourself"
Alexander Elchaninov, Orthodox priest. (quoted by Gordon MacDonald)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

So That's Where the Money Went

Local news a couple of days ago that nearly £1/2m is going on a new all-weather hockey pitch in Yeovil, courtesy of Barratts. This is part of the deal for a housing development on the E of the town (Wyndham Park) which Barratts are in charge of, which will see 700+ homes up in the next few years. The first 100 or so are already occupied, and we have a church community worker in one of the first houses on the estate getting to know the community and trying to bring people together.

I'm sure the new pitch will be well used, at least I hope so - Yeovil already has 2 decent all-weather surfaces at the football ground and Bucklers Mead, and several other good sports pitch locations (Johnson Park, Westlands, Mudford Rec. etc.). Meanwhile the community which has generated the funds, the new Wyndham Park development, will see what? Despite repeated lobbying, there are no plans for any community facilities on that estate beyond a small playground in one corner. No shops, no community meeting space. Of course there need to be facilities for the whole town, as well as for particular communities, but it's a bit galling to see so much cash being diverted away from that Wyndham Park, when we've been told repeatedly that the money/land isn't there for community provision. It's not the money that seems to be the problem, is it?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rev. John Collie 1925-2011

Whilst I was on sabbatical earlier this year I was sad to hear of the death of my first vicar, John Collie. I became a Christian as a teenager in Sheffield, in the mid-80s, and John was vicar of All Saints Ecclesall. My mum had already booked me on the church confirmation course, and inbetween her doing that and the course actually starting, God cornered me on a Sheffield bus (story for another time) and I started following Him in earnest.

My experience of church up to that point hadn't been great - a few dusty seasonal things like harvest festival, regular family services which we went to on scout church parade, which normally featured a wacky visual aid and a sermon from one of the lay readers. I still remember a giant pen-knife and one based on different types of fish. (The fish one I even remember the message, which for a 30-year old sermon is remarkable, well done Margaret Green). After my conversion, I went every week, and particularly loved communion as (in a big church) there was plenty of time to pray whilst everyone else was queuing up. Though I did have to ask what 'propitiation' and 'Hosanna' meant. Not everybody knew!

John co-led the confirmation course along with Vernon Blackmore, the then curate (last I heard he was working for Lion Books). After one of the sessions, about half way through, John kept me behind at the end. He stood right in front of me, eyeball to eyeball (we were about the same height when I was 15) and said something like "David, have you ever considered the ordained ministry". Quite a line for someone who had only been a Christian for a couple of months, but it lit the blue touch paper.

I'll always be grateful for Johns encouragement into ministry and leadership, and his confidence in me. I imagine there are lots of other people who could say the same. I'm sad that I never got to say thankyou properly - I regularly thought about writing to let him know how I was getting on, but never got round to it. I'm rather ashamed of that, if I 'don't have time' to be grateful to the people who've had such a significant impact on my life then there's something deeply twisted going on. Anyway, I wanted to register my gratitude to God for John Collie, I'll always be glad he was my vicar. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Riots, Fathers, Materialism, God and Redemption.

This is quite something. Former gang member on Sky telling the story of how he got into gang membership, and how he discovered Gods love and changed. This is really worth listening to all through.

"I was very bitter and resentful about my father...I was seeking that father (figure), I wanted it."

"If you have a broken society you can't ask them to take control of their children. Most of these mums are scared of their children."

"We have seen more people cry in the last few days over material things than they ever have over the life of a young person... we cannot be a society which puts material goods as more important than the life of a young man."

"What are your hopes for the future?"  "I wanna change London and the world."

One of the good things about 24 hour news coverage is that there's the chance to hear people at length, rather than soundbites, followed by a lengthy piece from Nick Robinson. So well done Sky (words I never thought I'd see myself writing) for giving these 2 guys the airtime.

Hymn Books v Data Projectors

In the early days of this blog, Dave Walkers cartoons were always a great source when I didn't have anything particular to say, or wanted to spread the joy. If you pay Dave a bit of cash (which will please him no end) you can even use his cartoons for sermons, newsletters etc - one or two of his Christmas cartoons have made great covers for our church publicity leaflets.

On the topic at hand, it was massively reassuring to get to New Wine and find that the first song on the data projector was shown with the verses in the wrong order. I turned to the person next to me and (nearly) said 'this is just like church last Sunday'. Most of the new songs seem to have been written with 1 verse, 1 chorus and about 3 'bridge' sections which could be sung in pretty much any order you liked, so you can't blame the techies for getting confused.

Experience of New Wine also demonstrates that if the bass and drums are loud enough you can sing them to any tune you like too, because nobody can hear it. Which was great, as many of us didn't know the tune but wanted to sing along.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Church Planting 101

Delighted to see that this training day with Stuart Murray Williams is being repeated in Bristol in October. Details at A few of us from Yeovil went to this event last year and it really was excellent. £20 well spent.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Riot of Goodness

Todays mass cleanups - whose turnout probably exceeds those of the riots by a large margin - have been inspiring. The #riotcleanup and @riotcleanup tags on Twitter have been humming, and when the BBC interviewed a vicar in Ealing earlier today she said that many of the would-be-cleaners had been sent home because there was nothing left for them to do, such was the volume of help.

In the battle for the soul of England, the brooms have come out in force against the bricks. Those who wash the feet of their community will always be the winners. Even more credit goes to those who wash the feet of their community even when it isn't 24 hour news or a trending topic on Twitter. Maybe there'll be more people like that now.

There are other worlds to sing in

This story was used by Rob Parsons at New Wine last week, and I liked it:


When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother used to talk to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was Information Please and there was nothing she did not know. Information Please could supply anybody’s number and the correct time.

My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway – The telephone! Quickly I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. Information Please I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear. “Information.”

“I hurt my finger. . .” I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.

“Nobody’s home but me.” I blubbered. “Are you bleeding?”

“No,” I replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”

“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. I said I could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger.”

After that I called Information Please for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math, and she told me my pet chipmunk I had caught in the park just the day before would eat fruits and nuts.

And there was the time that Petey, our pet canary died. I called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child.

But I was unconsoled. Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers, feet up on the bottom of a cage?

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.”

Somehow I felt better. Another day I was on the telephone. “Information Please.”

“Information,” said the now familiar voice.

“How do you spell fix?” I asked.

All this took place in a small town in the pacific Northwest. Then when I was 9 years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the hall table. Yet as I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between plane, and I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, “Information Please”.

Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice I knew so well, “Information.” I hadn’t planned this but I heard myself saying, “Could you tell me please how-to spell fix?”

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess that your finger must have healed by now.

I laughed, “So it’s really still you,” I said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.

“I wonder, she said, if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.”

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister. “Please do, just ask for Sally.”

Just three months later I was back in Seattle. . .A different voice answered Information and I asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?”

“Yes, a very old friend.”

“Then I’m sorry to have to tell you. Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.” But before I could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?”

“Yes.” “Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down. Here it is I’ll read it ‘Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean’.

I thanked her and hung up. I did know what Sally meant.

Monday, August 08, 2011

John Malkovich, Icon of Jesus

A few days ago John Malkovich took to the Edinburgh streets to leaflet for a play he's involved in at the Fringe. A (sadly) paywalled pic shows him standing slightly folorn in a sea of Scots waiting for someone to take an interest.

At the end of a seminar on the Dead Sea Scrolls at New Wine (yes, you read that correctly) Crispin Fletcher-Louis commented that "God has come down off the stage and is mingling with the audience." His point was that in declaring the Kingdom, Jesus was taking a whole load of things that were supposed to happen in the Temple and bringing them right to people's doorstep: worship, forgiveness, God's presence and glory, etc. It's great that a famous actor is happy to mix it with ordinary people in the streets (though hey, why shouldn't all famous people do that, instead of living in Wilmslow or Virginia Water?) to spread the word about his own creation. It's even greater that Jesus did pretty much the same.

And many people walk past, head down, palm raised, mumbling 'no thanks'. If we just looked up for one moment to see who it is....

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Dutch Priest versus the Trades Descriptions Act

Creative is about the only word of praise which comes to mind for this story from the church in Holland.

"Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death," Mr Hendrikse says. "No, for me our life, our task, is before death."

Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing.

God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience”

"When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that's where it can happen. God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience."

Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible's account of Jesus's life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

Apparently one 6th of the clergy in this church, a mainstream reformed church in Holland, are atheist or agnostic. It makes the CofE seem like a hotbed of fervent fundamentalism.

If this had been one of the 7 churches of Revelation, the other 6 would have been saying to each other 'well, at least we got off lightly, looks like we're not that bad after all.'

I'm all for rethinking the church, and the presentation of the gospel, but this Dutch bathtub lacks both bathwater and baby. It also seems fundamentally dishonest. If you're an atheist, what's the point in dressing it up in Christian language and pretending it's something else?

Your Phone is Being Hacked

...whether its a landline or a mobile, someone is listening in on your calls. But it's worse than that, they're recording all your emails too, every last poke of social networking, every website you visit whether 'accidentally' (yeah, right) or otherwise. And even when we're not on the phone, or online, somehow every word we say is taken note of, recorded.

The good news is that none of it is going to be misquoted in the Mirror or misinterpreted by the Mail any time soon.

"Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely Lord" (Psalm 139:4)
"What you have whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops." (Luke 12:3)

what am I up to when there's nobody looking but God?

Friday, August 05, 2011


A new scheme in Germany gives people the chance to rate their local priest on things like 'performance' (ugh!) at services' and credibility.

Ratings for priests on the site are represented by sheep, whose woolly coats range from white to black to visually express a priest's rating. The pope and other prominent German priests so far sport light to middle grey wool.

See Bosco Peters blog for a fuller description. Not sure what to think about this. The less of the X Factor spirit we have in church the better, but at the same time church leaders need accountability, and we need other people to help us reflect on how we're doing. But I would have thought a small group of trusted and honest Christians who can tell us the things we need to hear is a better way to do it.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

How to Explain Your Diocese

Great vid highlighted by the Twurch of England and produced by Bristol Diocese. A couple of years back I did a survey of all the Diocesan websites and Bristol's was already one of the best, it's now even better. If the 28 Fresh Expressions stories on the latest DVD aren't enough for you (review possibly to follow later this month) then Bristol has it's own collection.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


After a 3 month sabbatical, I'm seriously pondering whether to resume blogging. I know there isn't the time to do it at the level of the old 'St. Aidan to Abbey Manor' blog, but it was a useful way of sharing ideas and resources. The main problem was that it became compulsive. Hence the removal of anything from the blog which refers to traffic stats!

I've had a fiddle with formatting and appearance, and a new title which is a bit less pretentious and probably more accurate. But if it starts taking more than 15 minutes a day then it's back to Blogger deep freeze.

Part of that may mean less interaction with commenters, and if there are any posts/threads that start me losing sleep at night then they'll be deleted. Yes that's happened. Anyway, one post at a time and we'll see what happens...