Monday, October 31, 2011

Wanted: A Proper Debate About Consumer Capitalism

Only in Britain. We've never been very good about talking about the things that really matter, and it's bizarre that, as we've finally become more open in talking about sex, death, religion and politics (well, maybe with the exception of death), we've also lost the taste for serious conversation. It's now been the best part of a generation since we had an ideologically based political party, and Karl Marx would have his work cut out identifying one opiate of the people from the many candidates: lottery, celebrity culture, mobile phones, shopping, social media, sex. Pretty much anything except religion.

And so it is that, when a protest about how our economic system is run, a chance to debate some of the fundamental things in our society, finally hit the headlines for seven days running, we blew it. Instead of a substantial discussion about the consumer society, vast city pay packets, our crippling dependence on the banks, what do we have? The pretty trivial issue of whether a Cathedral was right to close on health and safety grounds. Only in Britain could the chance of a fundamental debate over the foundations of our society be scuppered by Health and Safety.

What have we been talking about:
 - Should St. Pauls have closed?
 - Should Giles Fraser have resigned over something that hasn't yet happened?
 - Would Jesus be in the camp, or in the cathedral? Or neither?
and there is now the unedifying spectacle of Anglicans publicly criticising each other (though I guess that's what I'm doing now!), and groups with little sympathy for the CofE pitching in to rub salt in the wound.

There has been an opportunity this week for the church to speak about Jesus message, to articulate a biblical ideology of wealth, poverty, justice, and money. St. Pauls has, apprently, a report ready to be published on the morality of City of London capitalism. Provided it is presentable and well-argued, this is precisely the time to go public with it. There will never be more attention on St. Pauls and its views than there is now, and it could take the debate in a whole new direction.

After all, what should we be talking about?
 - Developing an alternative to a Western economy based on debt, and a global economy biased against the poor.

 - Looking at the crippling economic, social and psychological consequences of consumer capitalism, and the epidemic of debt, depression and social breakdown that has come in its wake.

 - A robust public ideology of justice ('fairness' sounds a bit too weak and whiny for the phenomenal greed and inequalities we are dealing with here), that refuses to be held to ransom by people threatening to take their business or tax receipts elsewhere, one which values justice, integrity and community higher than profit.

 - Revisiting the whole structure of work and family, which has changed out of all recognition in 2 generations. The 24 hour society, twin incomes to prop up inflated mortgages, a toxic mix of overwork for the employed and no work for the unemployed, the increase pressure to offload children to state-sponsored childcare, and an ossified and overpriced housing market. How did we get here, and is it where we want to be?

 - Whether the current 'hands off' government approach really holds any water: lecturing banks, energy companies and city bosses has so far failed completely. We are rapidly reaching the point (maybe we have already) where corporations are more powerful than governments. Can this be tolerated? Is there an alternative? Can business be humanised, can we find an alternative trump card to profit and economics, and if so how?

 - The debt crunch has revealed just how weak and vulnerable the Western economies are. That the Eurozone is now actively going cap in hand to China is deeply worrying. The final act of Western democracy, as the sun set on its empire, was to max out its credit card and turn to an oppressive, rights-denying, church-suppressing, web-censoring regime for help, promising to lobotomise its conscience in payment. (Gordon Browns greatest gift to the British people was his '5 economic tests' for entering the Euro, tests which would never be passed as long as Brown was Chancellor. History may smile upon him for this.) Is there a way to keep Britain from this route? Even if there is, what will a world look like where appeasement of China is the pre-requisite for doing business? What will it mean for the oppressed Chinese themselves, for the world to go silent?

 - Plus a whole stack of issues around trade, global poverty, the conditions in which many Western consumer goods are produced (including, probably, some of the tents outside St. Pauls and the clothing worn within it), global warming etc. All of which, at root, are moral as well as economic questions.

Sorry, this is a bit of a rant, but I'm so frustrated. Perhaps I should pack my tent for London and hope to catch the eye of a camera crew. Perhaps taking my dog collar would help.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Getting Your Kids Through Church Without Them Ending Up Hating God the provocative title of Rob Parsons latest book, based on his (sadly) extensive experience of adults for whom their childhood experience of church is the main reason they now are no longer part of one.

There's a national tour in November, here's some of the blurb:

We aim to present a challenge and to encourage and equip parents and leaders to meet that challenge by:

•Taking a fresh look at what may cause young people to turn away from the church and how we can play our part in reversing this trend

•Thinking in new ways about what is happening in the lives of young people and what really matters to God

•Considering how the way we live out our own faith impacts young people

•Learning from the wisdom and experience of other parents and leaders who have gone through similar challenges

I heard Rob Parsons on this at New Wine and it was helpful and powerful stuff, very impassioned, and as a parent something that's becoming more and more of an issue.

Care for the Family also has lots of helpful stuff on parenting. Often very simple, but vital insights.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Guide To Cathedral Staff

The resignation of the Chancellor of St. Pauls Cathedral, Dr Giles Fraser, along with statements by the Dean, reminds me of the singular set of names we have for Cathedral staff in the CofE. So here's a guide for the perplexed:

Dean: someone called Dean. Or failing that, Graham. Anyway, it's a mans name, which explains why there are so few female Deans. The last known sightings were in the 1980s, (Hazell Dean, Brenda Dean)

Sub Dean: Someone else called Dean whose job it is to go out to the sandwich shop to get lunch for everyone else.

Chancellor: Runs the economy, sets the levels of taxation for visitors to the Cathedral, appears regularly on TV.

Precentor: Best to ask a midwife.

Succentor: Succesor to the Precentor. Particularly enjoys the middle parts of sweets.

Lay Canon: Goes round telling people 'you're fired'. This practice recently discontinued after one of the senior staff didn't realise it was said in jest.

Chapter: part of a long and wonderful ongoing story. Meets in a Chapter House for regular book club gatherings. As the name suggests, composed mostly of chaps.

Registrar: Sits at the door taking the names of everyone who comes in.

Verger: Keeps the grass by the edge of the road looking tidy. Not to be confused with Virgil, the previous Verger, who is off sick.

College of Minor Canons: Finishing school for small photocopiers.

There, bang goes my chances of ever getting a job in a Cathedral. Which is quite a relief, to both parties probably. For an alternative set of definitions, try here, and in the meantime pray for the good people of St. Pauls as they pray and work and seek to bear witness.

Cathedrals are orderly places, with lots of set times, roles and traditions, and it feels like St. Pauls has struggled to know how to handle the disorderly, fluid congregation in its front porch. I think I would too, if we had a protest camp in our churchyard. It's important that we keep houses of prayer as houses of prayer (does having rock gigs in Cathedrals help or hinder?), but the church should be just as much at home on the streets as in the sanctuary.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Coldplay Mylo Xyloto: Has God Left the Garden?

With Viva La Vida I was hopeful that Chris Martin was evolving into a subtler version of Bono, with various hints at faith throughout the lyrics. I've been enjoying Mylo Xyloto whilst trying to work out what he's singing about this time, and the answer seems to be 'not a great deal'. The lyrics are mostly pretty vague, and its rather odd hearing a global superstar band singing about the joys of being an outsider, whether its the graffiti artist (Hurts Like Heaven), stealing a car to go and get drugs (Charlie Brown), or 'Us Against the World'.

This latter track has the most biblical/spiritual imagery, and at the same time illustrates very well how it's used: for effect rather than for meaning.

Oh, morning, come bursting, the clouds amen
Lift off this blindfold, let me see again
And bring back the water that your ships rode in
In my heart she left a hole

The tightrope that I'm walking just sways and ties
The devil as he's talking with those angel's eyes
And I just want to be there when the lightning strikes
And the saints go marching in

And sing, slow-owow-owow-owow-it down
Through chaos as it swirls, it's us against the world

Like a river to a raindrop I lost a friend
My drunken has a Daniel in a lion's den
And tonight I know it all has to begin again
So whatever you do, don't let go

And if we could float away, fly up to the surface
And just start again and lift off before trouble
Just erodes us in the rain, just erodes us in the rain
Just erodes us, and see roses in the rain

Now this could be Coldplays way of saying they're longing for the second coming to deliver them from a world where Satan, disguised as an angel of light, reigns through chaos. Or it could be a vague meditation on feeling bereft because of some unnamed woman who's broken his heart. We've seen this before: e.g. the Roman cavalry choirs of Viva La Vida: sounds significant, means....... ??

The other most overtly spiritual lyric on the album, UFO, could also be taken either way.
Lord I don't know which way I am going
which way the rivers gonna flow
It starts like a prayer, but doesn't really get very far. There's talk about sunlight streaming through the holes in the sky ripped by bullets, which if you're that way inclined could link to Romans 8 about all things working together for good, or Revelation where God makes all things new. But those links are in the mind of the listener, not in the words themselves.

The whole CD has plenty of aspirations and 'up' language: to 'heaven', 'paradise', cathedrals in the heart, flying up to the surface (see above), being 'up with the birds' etc., and it closes with the line 'good things are coming our way', but nothing to suggest why. With the final implosion of Oasis, maybe Coldplay are now trying to fill the gap in the market for optimistic rock songs. In many ways this mirrors the music: just as language is used for effect, not content, Mylo Xyloto is more of a sound than a collection of tunes. I found it harder to identify particular songs (with the exception of Paradise or the superb Princess of China) during early listens, or the overall flow of the album. Like the colourful but messy artwork, Mylo Xyloto is rich in musical colour, but it's a bit harder to identify particular shapes, either to the music, or to the words. The lack of a full set of lyrics with the CD maybe indicates that Coldplay don't really want to draw attention to their lyrics, and don't set as much store by them as some of their fans.

Which is a shame really. I enjoy challenging lyrics, that have a bit of depth or meaning to them. Whilst U2 continue to try to say something through their music, I wonder if Coldplay have given up. The album title, after all, doesn't mean anything. (It also means they get Google all to themselves!) Given their support for Oxfam and other good causes, that's a missed opportunity. Yes it's 4 blokes having fun making music, and perhaps I should be happy with that - it's good music after all. Is it wrong to want more?

PS the post title is a reference to Cemetaries of London, on Viva La Vida "I saw God come in my garden but I don't know what He said/for my heart it wasn't open." But you knew that already.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Is Church Too Easy for Men?

the numbers don't lie. Men are staying away from church. The reasons are undoubtedly complex, but perhaps a clue can be found in a Christian group that attracts men and women in roughly equal numbers: Eastern Orthodoxy. A cynic might say that men are attracted to Orthodoxy because it is conservative, with an all-male clergy, many of them sporting beards. The finding of religion journalist Frederica Mathewes-Green, however, is closer to the truth. She surveyed male adult converts and discovered that Orthodoxy's main appeal is that it's "challenging." One convert said, "Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it is also about overcoming myself." Another said that he was sick of "bourgeois, feel-good American Christianity."

Yes, some churchgoers are satisfied with feel-good Christianity, but I think many Christians—women and men—yearn for a more costly, demanding, life-changing discipleship. Perhaps women are more patient when they don't find it, or more discerning of the deeper cross-bearing opportunities that lie beneath the candied surface. Men take a walk or hang around the church coffeepot talking in jargon about football: another disciplined and costly arena of life in which people sacrifice their bodies and their individual desires for a larger cause that matters to them, at least for the moment. Near transcendence is preferable to no transcendence at all.

full article at Christian Century.

I can relate to this. On 3 months of sabbatical, the things I enjoyed most were not really the free time, or the cold beers, but the challenges: a weeks silent retreat, a 30 mile walk in the Lake District, converting half the garage into a games room for our kids with limited (read 'no') DIY skills. Those were the highlights.

Here's the survey the article refers to, which really is worth reading in full. Here's a snippet

The term most commonly cited by these men was “challenging.” Orthodoxy is “active and not passive.” “It’s the only church where you are required to adapt to it, rather than it adapting to you.” “The longer you are in it, the more you realize it demands of you.”

The “sheer physicality of Orthodox worship” is part of the appeal. Regular days of fasting from meat and dairy, “standing for hours on end, performing prostrations, going without food and water [before communion]…When you get to the end you feel that you’ve faced down a challenge.” “Orthodoxy appeals to a man’s desire for self-mastery through discipline.”

“In Orthodoxy, the theme of spiritual warfare is ubiquitous; saints, including female saints, are warriors. Warfare requires courage, fortitude, and heroism. We are called to be ‘strugglers’ against sin, to be ‘athletes’ as St. Paul says. And the prize is given to the victor. The fact that you must ‘struggle’ during worship by standing up throughout long services is itself a challenge men are willing to take up.”

A recent convert summed up, “Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it’s also about overcoming oneself. I am challenged in a deep way, not to ‘feel good about myself’ but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Solar Panels for Somerset Churches

coming up...

Solar powered Bath and Wells Environment Gathering

Organised by the Diocesan Environment Group is a unique chance for environment enthusiasts from across Bath and Wells to come together on Saturday 12 November. Bishop Peter of Taunton will be our key-note speaker and the venue is St Michael’s, Galmington which features in the current edition of Manna celebrating their solar panels.

The aim of the gathering is to bring together those who carry a concern for God’s creation and who may currently feel isolated. The findings of the recent Churches Environment Survey will be shared, with feedback to Bishop Peter and David Maggs, Social Justice and Environment Adviser. It is a chance to become more involved and better supported at a local level through an Environmental Champions Network. There will be information about the Diocesan loan scheme for the fitting of pv panels on church roofs and the Energy Saving Benchmarking scheme will be launched.

The gathering will start at 9.30 (tea and coffee from 9.00) and finish by 12.30. Please indicate your interest in attending by emailing

from Connect, the online Bath and Wells newsletter.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Government Strategy for Problem Families: Passing the Buck to Local Councils?

A couple of days ago Eric Pickles spoke on the 120,000 'troubled' families identified by David Cameron in the wake of the riots. He announced that he'd been put in charge of 'turning their lives around' by the end of the parliament - quite a big ask! It's significant that it's the minister for Local Government that's been put in charge of this. Why? read on...

Here's some of his speech to a Local Government Conference

The whole country got a sudden, unwelcome insight into our problem families. The ones that make misery in their communities and cause misery to themselves.

Any local politician worth his salt will already know the family members by name - along with the police, the social workers, the courts, the schools, the A&E. And they will be known and avoided in their local neighbourhoods.

There are 120,000 plus of these problem families.

And there hasn't been a lack of interventions. A lack of money spent. Less than one per cent of the population, they cost the economy over eight billion pounds a year.

It's a story of futility and waste. Waste of money. Waste of people.

And it has simply got to stop. We are going to stop it.

We can no longer afford the luxury of fruitless, uncoordinated investment. The damaged lives and communities.

The Prime Minister has set out an ambition of turning the lives of these families around by the end of Parliament.

I'm in charge of delivering this across Whitehall.

And someone's got to show local leadership to deliver this on the ground. And that should be you in local government.

So don't dither or fret. Um and ah. Don't pass the buck. This is it.

Last week the Prime Minister announced a Troubled Families Unit in my Department led by Louise Casey.

She will be working on an action plan for what needs to be done nationally and locally to deliver this ambition. That will include cutting the bureaucracy that gets in your way.

And she'll be supporting and talking to you. To ensure that all across the country, councils and their partners are prioritising the activities and interventions which work.

If you're wondering is this a threat to your independence - the answer is yes, it is a threat. It is a threat if you don't get on with things.

Think of this as a race to deliver by 2015. If you motor along then we'll play catch up. But if we get there first - you'll find yourselves behind the agenda.

Several features of this jump out:
1. Is Pickles simply passing the buck to local councils and agencies? The government has a vision (or at least a soundbite) of dealing with the most dysfunctional and socially costly families (misnomer: some of them are individuals rather than families). But it doesn't look like it'll be the government putting it into action. The onus here seems to be on local authorities. OK, the context may explain that, but there's more said about what local government can do than about national government.

2. Cameron has set himself a goal, but it doesn't look like he's that sure how to hit it. If he did, they wouldn't need a unit to work out an action plan.

3. There is general government mood music to set national goals, but devolve responsibility for meeting them to other people. The recent, and laughable, obesity report from the department of health encouraged people to eat less and exercise more (must have had the best minds in the country working on that one) but refused to put a single piece of legistlation in place. There is a bizarre duality to this government, in certain areas they are hyperactive (e.g. pension reform - but fair enough, after 13 years of Labour inaction on a looming social and economic timebomb, there was some catching up to do) whilst in other areas it is all about saying lots and doing little.

David Camerons conference speech emphasised 'leadership' from business, social enterprises, communities, and the role of government of setting free and enabling this local leadership. Fair enough, but at the moment the government seems to have a better idea of the problems than it does of the solutions. Maybe it's a cultural issue: perhaps Brits are better at waiting for someone to tell us what to do, and rather than simply getting on and doing it. But as with the 'problem families' - if that doing isn't strategic, well informed, co-ordinated, and sustained, it doesn't actually work.

What does work? There's quite a bit of material on Christian discipleship doing the rounds at the moment, which addresses the same core issue: how do you help people to change? I'll probably blog more on this another time, but some of the constant factors seem to be
 - a mentor, sponsor or soul friend, who holds you to the goal of personal change
 - accountability to a small group on the same journey as you
 - an interactive learning process, based in real life rather than in the classroom
 - learning a new set of values and priorities in life
 - learning experiences
 - a goal and vision of life that goes beyond ourselves (in the case of Christian discipleship, this is the mission of Jesus).

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous will recognise most of this. It's an approach that doesn't have to be confined to Christian formation. Should Eric Pickles be looking at those organisations which have specialised in life change, repentance and redemption? Is this something governments can deliver, or merely enable?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Opinionated Vicars: Why Should the Dole Queue Have All the Good Bloggers?

Updated Update: apologies for forgetting Rev. Simon Stevens (aka Yellow), former chaplain at Southampton University, laid off, whose valiant attempt to continue his ministry self-supported didn't work out. Seems to be off radar at the moment.

Update: some good thoughts from Wannabepriest, and Giles Frasers resignation from St. Pauls already generating plenty of heat about whether the institutional church can cope with outspoken clerics.

What is it about blogging vicars? An increasing number are ending up between jobs, of whom RevLesley is the most recent. She writes

Blogging is not my ministry or my calling – being a priest is. At the moment I am in limbo – my previous license has expired and I have to wait to see whether I will get a new one…. It has radically changed my perspective on many things.

September was a bit like looking down the barrel of a gun. My old ministry was ending and there was no new ministry in sight. My calling as a priest consumes my whole identity. Without it I don’t know who I am, don’t know what I would do and couldn’t bear to have anything to do with church – the grief would be too much

She joins Peter Ould (now a financial analyst) and MadPriest, the original opinionated vicar, who has been unemployed since last summer. 
If I was doing a top 5 of the most outspoken online clergy, then these 3 would all be in it (along with Cranmers Curate). In at least one case, their blogging is one of the main factors in the lack of a CofE post. Without assuming that the individual is always right and the institution is always wrong, does this point to a problem with the CofE?
Confession time: after I've rehearsed in my head the stuff I want to say, I frequently tone it down. Several reasons:
 - sometimes blurting out the first thing you say isn't the wisest, or the most loving, or the most helpful thing to do. The Bishop of Willesden can advise on this.
 - I know some of the people who are reading this, and they include folk at my Diocese, and people in local churches. and people I need to work with. So I tone things down for public consumption. I don't know whether this is sensible or cowardly, or both.
 - I'm kept awake at night by hostile comments, or when people point out how abjectly wrong I've got things. So to spare myself the stress I tend to be more nuanced, to ask questions rather than make statements, to prod rather than proclaim. 
Of course, being opinionated doesn't make you right. It could just make you obnoxious. But if you're just repeating what everyone else is saying then why say it at all?
But if I was more opinionated about, say, the CofE, or my Diocese, or my community, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
there I go again, phrasing things as a question....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bad Preacher

' "That reminds me of a story" 6 words that strike terror into the heart of a congregation.'

didn't have anything profound to blog today, so this will do. To start with I thought it was just taking the mick out of American preachers, but then.....

Monday, October 17, 2011

2 Minutes Silence Video for Remembrance Day

This was produced for last year, but it's very simple and very effective. Planning to use it at 11am on 11.11.11 at Yeovil College, and again on Sunday 13th.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Wish All Church Reports Were Done by the Baptists

This is how to do a report. 1 page, and plenty of good news. It's a survey of Baptist church planting since 2005, gives a breakdown of the types of plants and the types of leadership, and takes about 3 minutes to read. I dread to think how long it would take the CofE to put together something similar, or even if we were capable of it at all.

One reason the Baptists are good at this is that they have a clear strategy, some great resources, committed, regular and targeted finance, and they review and evaluate. Ok, that's 4 reasons. They also don't have a parish system, which means that new estates and unreached areas are 'greenfield' sites as far as church plants are concerned, rather than political and ecclesiological minefields.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Church of England Gets Behind Mental Health 'Time to Change' Campaign

Brilliant news, the CofE has officially thrown its weight behind the 'Time to Change' campaign, which I've been blogging on all week. Press release here, more details at echurch blog.

There is now a pack for churches on the official Time to Change website, the pack is in pdf format and includes some background info, and suggestions for use in worship: prayers, readings, hymns, action points, poems etc. Good to see this being offered.

Time to Change also has a pack of free materials - posters, postcards etc., that can be used to get discussion started and give the campaign a higher profile in your church, or wherever.

See also Vic the Vicar, who blogged about Mental Health Day earlier this week

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time to Change vid - please watch!

Time to Change promo video. Yes, I am going to carry on going on about this. It's time to end the stigma experienced by mental health sufferers. How about showing this in your church (if you have one)? That lady who said she felt the stigma in church as well as in general society - how can we let that happen?

For a personal account, have a look at the superb Sallys Journey, some really powerful posts and poems.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Personal Experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This week is OCD Awareness Week, and here's a snippet from one persons account of their OCD:

OCD all started for me on Christmas Day 1980. I was eight years old and, after the excitement and over-indulgence of the day, vomited in the late evening. I recall my Mums' words very clearly; “you've eaten far too much and made yourself sick”. From there, I developed an irrational fear of vomiting. Every evening I would lie in bed waiting for my Mum to check on me so I could ask “I'm not going to be sick am I Mum? It's all in my mind”. OCD was born.

I look back on my childhood with sadness. A time which should be protected from fear. A time which should be carefree and without worry was a time of endless angst. I feared electrical plugs being left in and would sleep at night with the plug from my electric blanket against my face. It seemed the only way to be sure it wasn't still plugged in. I rocketed from one anxiety to another with no respite in between. Nobody recognised a child who was suffering. I was “just a worrier”.

In my late teens my anxieties receded. I was able to complete a psychiatric nursing qualification and met and married my husband aged 21. I secured a job and purchased my first house. Life was just as I dreamed.

And then OCD returned.

The fear of vomiting returned. I became preoccupied with the need to repeatedly check best before dates on food. I would seek continual reassurance from my husband that my meal was okay for me to eat. I lost count of the number of carefully prepared meals which had to be thrown away as the fear could not be quashed. I began to develop fears in my work. “What if I give someone the wrong medication”, “What if I give someone an injection which paralyses them”. The compulsion to check my work to quell my anxieties was overwhelming. I felt trapped in an endless cycle of anxiety, check, anxiety, check. It was exhausting.

It was in 1995 where I reached breaking point.
read the rest here

OCD affects about 750,000 people in the UK. For many of these, the fear of what others will think prevents them every telling anyone else, and stops them from going to their GP. Removing the sense of stigma will mean that 3/4 of a million people don't need to suffer in silence.

Short notice I know, but if you're one of my millions of Somerset readers (ok, you both know who you are) there's an event in Bath this evening. Other events later this week.

Mental Health: "Often the stigma is worse than the symptoms"

Following on from yesterdays piece, good to see Alastair Campbell supporting the Time to Change initiative that got £20m of government funding yesterday. Time for Change aims to reduce stigma and bullying around mental health issues. Campbell blogs "for many, this was an area where the stigma and discrimination were often worse than the symptoms, and that the campaign was focused on one of the hardest things of all – changing attitudes. Mental illness is perhaps the last great taboo, and we need to break it down."

The Independent on Sunday reported a survey of mental health sufferers, where 2/3 of sufferers said they found it harder to cope with other people's attitudes to their illness than they did the illness itself. One in 4 of us get hit by mental illness at some stage, but fear of what other people will say or think means that many suffer in silence. Occasionally someone will break the silence, but that still takes quite a lot of guts. Saying you get depression, OCD, panic attacks etc. should be as normal as telling people you've got the flu' or a broken leg.

Back in February Nick Clegg announced £400m of government money would go towards mental health, so I look forward to seeing where the other £380m is going to go. At the moment, this is pushing water uphill - the stress of redundancy, debt and economic uncertainty is massive, whilst those in work are putting in longer hours and wondering when their time will come.

But targeting the stigma of mental health looks like a good move. Normalising mental illness, putting it in the same social bracket as physical illness, can ease the distress of those who suffer. And with very few exceptions, my experience is that if you tell people what's really going on in your head, they may not completely understand it, but they do accept it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mental Health & OCD: Watching our Language

Yesterday was world mental health day, and this week is OCD Awareness Week. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is rated by the World Health Organisation as one of the top 10 most debilitating illnesses you can have. It affects around 2% of the population at one time or another.

a few links
on the role of churches in mental health, good piece from the Huffington Post.

A Mind campaign to tackle the stigma of mental health problems has just had extra funding from the government and Comic Relief

The MOD has just launched an initiative aimed at supporting those suffering mental illness as a result of war.

Good primer on OCD here, it's aimed at teenagers but pretty good for adults too.

BBC piece on how we use terms like 'obsessive compulsive' and 'schizophrenic' as adjectives for other things, often reinforcing mistaken views of what the terms mean, and what's involved in having these illnesses. A snippet:

The flippant use of such terms nowadays may offend some and not bother others. But such a dynamic is part of the words' evolution, says Joel Rose, director of OCD Action.

"Five years ago people wouldn't have known what you were talking about if you mentioned OCD," he says. "Now they have a sense of what it is about and use it, but don't really fully understand it. The next five years will be about working to fully educate people.

"What we want people to understand is how serious and debilitating OCD can be. We're talking about people who might clean a floor repeatedly for eight hours or someone who can't leave the house. It's not having a tidy house or arranging the tins of food in your cupboard. We also want to get across that it is treatable."

Indeed, many of those diagnosed with the condition have successfully learned to manage it. Overcoming its metaphorical use, however, may prove more difficult.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons in Forgiveness from Take That

I was struck by this part of an interview with Gary Barlow in the Radio Times, talking of the moment he and Robbie Williams decided to make up:

"..I was 38 and he was 34 – and it’s like, ‘Let’s talk this through.’ All those years I’d just imagined this moment to actually be sat there opposite this person who’d said so much worse than anybody else had ever in my life. Done so much damage and said so much bad stuff.”

To your face?

“No, that was the thing. Not to my face. In records and in print.”

What hurt him most?

“Nothing hurt me most, it was the way it was being done I didn’t like. And to eventually be sat there opposite the person was liberating. And you know what? A lot of people don’t get that chance; they spend their whole lives as enemies and don’t talk. So for me that was a victorious day. And we came back to it a couple of days later and did some more and then we were washed and we were clean.”

Fantastic. It's liberating to forgive, and to be forgiven. Heard that before somewhere... It takes courage from both sides to face up to things like this. I'm aware both of a need to deal with things from the past, but also of a fear which stops me from doing it.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Tribute To Steve Jobs?

Fridays Guardian had a full page advert from Diesel, which read "The best way to forecast the future is to invent it. Thankyou Steve. Steve Jobs, 1955-2011" and ended with the Diesel logo at the bottom with a signature (the CEO?).

Is this....
1. Cynical exploitation of a mans name and death by a brand and a newspaper to make money/increase brand sympathy?
2. A fitting capitalist-style tribute to one of it's most successful sons?
3. Both?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Wikio Top Religion Blogs for September

Wikio have just put up their list of top blogs for last month, here's the top 10
1. echurch blog
2. Islam in Europe
3. The Freethinker
4. Thinking Anglicans
5. Bartholemews Notes on Religion
6. Nick Baines
7. Pete Saunders, Christian Medical Comment
8. Lesleys Blog
9. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
10. Phil's Treehouse

You can find the full list here. The most influential blogger in this field, Cranmer, is missed off because it doesn't look like you can be in 2 categories at once, and he's mixing it with the Politics blogs.

 - This list is more diverse than it was a couple of years ago, when it was dominated by Anglican and Catholic blogs.
 - Nick Baines seems to have replaced Bishop Alan as the chief blogger in the purple, which has resulted in various religious correspondents now having him on speed dial, just beneath Terry Sanderson.
 - I've left Anglican Mainstream off the list, even though they're technically in the top 10, because it's not a blog. They cut and paste news stories from elsewhere and don't allow comments. At least Nadine Dorries writes her own stuff.

The ranking is mainly calculated by links from other blogs, rather than traffic, and you have to be registered with Wikio to qualify. So it's pretty limited, and doesn't register links from Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. But as the man says, life's complicated enough. If nothing else, it's a good starting point for discovering blogs you've never read before.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

David Cameron Speech Wordle: the Cat Version. Is 'Leadership' Enough?

this shape seemed somehow appropriate.

What struck me most was Camerons continued references to leadership. The word crops up 19 times, both in terms of national government, and in fleshing out some of the 'Big Society' stuff - leadership as the bottom-up response to social challenges, schooling, health, citizenship, business growth, jobs etc.

But..... I agree with Cameron on the importance of leadership, and have said many times on this blog how important leadership is within the church. But leadership on its own isn't enough. It has to go together with character. Colonel Gadaffi, Fred Goodwin and Alan Sugar are all leaders, and in their own way have been very effective. But leaders characterised by brutality, greed and the unscrupulous pursuit of money aren't the kind of leaders we need.

It's having the right mix of competence and character, leaders with integrity. And right now if you look in politics, media, business, sport, pretty much every high profile area of national life, where are the leaders of good character? And how are we going to raise up a generation of leaders who see integrity and compassion as more valuable than riches or fame?

Mentoring Matters - new CPAS resource

CPAS have just launched a new resource to help local churches get a mentoring network established. If Mentoring Matters is anything like the quality of Growing Leaders, then it should be excellent. The resource includes a training course, a framework for people to start mentoring other folk within the congregation, and all the leaders resources you need.

We're wrestling more and more with the question of discipleship. Alan Hirsch notes that if the church doesn't disciple people, then the culture will. But it's obvious that a 20 minute sermon once a week (or, more realistically, every other week) isn't doing the trick. In 2 Timothy Paul writes that Timothy has seen not just his teaching, but his 'way of life, faith, patience, love, perseverance and suffering'. Discipleship happens in relationships, not in pews, and the mentoring relationship seems like a great way to help people have the God-focused and discipleship-focused conversations we need to grow.

I like this quote, not just because it comes from a friend of mine...!! 'I don't think we're intended to grow as disciples on our own. Mentoring is not about giving someone permission to barge into your life, it's about helping you achieve growth which you couldn't achieve on your own.'

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Prayer and Car Washing

"We must re-learn the essential truth that Christian prayer is rather like cleaning a car. When we are lucky enough to have a new one, we wash and polish away with enthusiastic fervour, it is a devotional job. when the novelty wears off it becomes rather a nuisance and rather a bore, but we can still clean it efficiently, and here is the one vital point: there is no difference whatever in the result."
(Martin Thornton Christian Proficiency, quoted in Eugene Peterson Practice Resurrection p147)

There will be some of you who can relate to this. As someone who washes the car roughly twice a year, and only then after a great degree of domestic encouragement, if that was a picture of my prayer life I'd be in deep trouble.

South Somerset Core Strategy: the Final Bite


Just in...
Message from South Somerset District Council Consultations

South Somerset District Council - Draft Core Strategy, Committee Meetings Timetable

I am writing to you as a respondent to the public consultation on the Draft Core Strategy (incorporating Preferred Options), October 2010 (and also those who have expressed an interest in the Core Strategy). Over recent months officers have been considering and responding to the issues that arose during the consultation process. Their findings and recommendations are going to be reported to and considered by the Council's Area Committees and then the District Executive during October and November; Full Council will consider the report on 26 January 2012. The timetable of meetings is set out below:

Area West 19 October, 2011 5.30pm The Shrubbery, Ilminster

Area North 26 October, 2011 2.00pm Seavington Village Hall, Seavington

Area South 14 November, 2011 10.00am - 4.00pm Council Chamber, Brympton Way, Yeovil

Area East 9 November, 2011 2.30pm Churchfields, Wincanton

Special District Executive 22 November, 2011 9.30am Council Chamber, Brympton Way, Yeovil

Full Council 26 January, 2012  10.00am The GateWay, Addlewell Lane, Yeovil

Please Note: Exact timing of consideration of the Core Strategy will be subject to other agenda items.
All meetings are open to the public and you are welcome to attend.

Relevant documents should be posted here nearer the time.

I don't know how much will get changed as a result of public consultation, but if you never try you never know. This is our district, and our council, and our future. If we had the chance to say something at the time but kept quiet, we have no right to complain in the future when stuff actually happens. And do pray for the people involved in this, it's a mammoth document and a mammoth task, getting it right or getting it wrong can make a huge difference to the quality of local life.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Bible Word Clouds

Some clever people have rendered all 66 books of the Bible as word clouds, like the Mark one here. The full collection is at Sixty-Six Clouds.

Would make a great time filler for preachers meetings: give them a few of these and see if they can work out which book it is. (though the name at the bottom might be a giveaway....)

Ht Mark Meynells excellent Q treasure map.

Top Posts for September

Here are the posts that got most attention last month. Whether they were worthy of it, I'll leave you to judge:

Archbishop of Canterbury: Runners and Riders. Following the news that Rowan Williams may one day retire (now overtaken by the governments complete removal of retirement), a few left-field suggestions for the job.

Archbishop of Canterbury: the All-Woman Shortlist. Well, nearly. Just in case Harriet Harman happens to be reading.

What to do with the children during after-service coffee. I hasten to add we've not actually tried this.

Latest Church of England stats: probably more comment to come on these in the next few days.

Warning Sign Generator: a bit of an oldie, seem to get a lot via Google for this one.

The God Complex: Who Do Time Lords Pray To? a desperate attempt to increase blog traffic by mentioning Doctor Who. Or, as it's now known since the series finale, Doctor Huh?

Housing Developers Stop You Being Christian   by building homes too small for occupiers to show hospitality. There, you don't even need to read the post now.

I only posted about 30 times, so running to a top 10 is probably a bit OTT... And I've no idea if these are the actual top posts, they're based on the 'Blogger Stats' tab, which is throwing up some 'interesting' referral sites. But they'll do for now.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Vote For Yeovil Street Pastors

Yeovil Street Pastors have put in for a £6000 grant from a Natwest Community fund, but we need a few folk to vote for the bid for it to have a chance of being succesful. Please go here to support.  Thankyou.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Get in the Picture: great Christmas idea

Ok, a blazing hot October day (yes, you read that right) probably isn't the best for thinking about Christmas, but this looks like a great idea: Get in the Picture is a great way to get Christmas out and about. Basically, you mock up a nativity scene, have a great pile of costumes, and invite people to have their picture taken.

 The results are posted up on the Get in the Picture website the following day, so people can download their own Christmas scene, which is accompanied by details of local Christmas services.

It happened in 76 towns across England last year, according to Mission Scene the baptist union mission newsletter (pages 16-18, lots of good pics). Details about how to do it on the website, or here. Now to try to get it off the ground in Yeovil......