Saturday, December 31, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

3 Dimensions of Discipleship: Great Grub from Dallas Willard

Fantastic piece from Dallas Willard. Here's a snippet

Living as Jesus’ disciple, I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of the Heavens everywhere I am, in every activity I engage in. There are three dimensions of this learning.

First, I am learning to do the things which Jesus explicitly said to do. It is quite literally nonsense to call Jesus “Lord,” and not do what he said. “Lord” means nothing in such a case. (Luke 6:46-49) But because I do accept him as Lord, his instructions on behavior are my treasures for living life. Of course I cannot do what he said by just trying. I must train! I must, through appropriate courses of action, become inwardly transformed by grace to become the kind of person—in my inmost thoughts, feelings, attitudes and directions of will—who will routinely do the kinds of things he said to do. I will then not be governed by anger, contempt or lust. And I will be able to bless those who curse me, love my enemies, and so forth, because I am one in whom the character and power of Christ has come to dwell through the processes of discipleship to Christ.

Second, I am learning to conduct the usual activities of life—in home, school, community, business and government—in the character and power of Christ. Jesus himself, of course, spent most of his life on earth as an “independent contractor” or businessman. Jesus could have led the ordinary life of the ordinary citizen in all of its legitimate respects. He can show us how to live now, as a mother or father, banker or computer programmer, teacher or artist, in the Kingdom of the Heavens. His character and power and personal guidance will lead us into life as it should be in all of these areas of human existence.

Third, I am learning to exercise the power of the kingdom—of Christ in his Word and Spirit—to minister good and defeat evil in all of the connections of earthly existence. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) Apprenticeship to Jesus means that, in tiny steps, we learn to exercise this power seen in Jesus. Growth in character is primary, for power requires substance of character if it is to be used for Christ’s purposes. Christ had no character problems, but we do. Prayer, in its aspect of training for Kingdom life, is primarily a matter of learning to exercise power in a way that is both profitable and safe.

I've printed out the whole article, as, like Christmas turkey, it needs several days of preparation, cooking, chewing over and digesting. Ht David Cooke, a link well worth visiting in its own right.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

I shouldn't like this, but I do. Leigh Nash has such a gorgeous voice.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas to everyone, thanks for reading & commenting, may God bless you and keep you, and guide your steps in 2012.

(Housekeeping note: there's a few scheduled posts going up in the next week or so, but I'll be offline until the new year, so all comments are going on moderation. )

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Carol Services: Fresh Expressions of English Heritage?

It struck me the other day that there's a few parallels between the Christmas Carol Service experience, and that offered by English Heritage and the National Trust. In some of the historic premises round the UK, as you walk into a room you'll find someone dressed in period costume, speaking period language, in a room set out as it would have been in Georgian/Victorian/Tudor/etc. times. The idea is for a more 'immersive' experience of the history of the place. And no matter how good or authentic the experience, it would be an odd NT or EH member who would go back every month, never mind every week, for the same experience.

So it's probably unrealistic of church folk to expect that the people who come for their 'immersive' Christmas experience -  period building, period costume, period carols, ancient readings - to come back any more than annually. The Christmas experience itself is so 'one off' that churches couldn't duplicate it the rest of the year, even if we wanted to.

Maybe more appropriate would be a guide book to explain all the period fittings and what they mean. In our case, a glossary for the language used in the carols would probably be pretty handy: begotten, seraph, abhors, 'God of God, light of light', strain, Messiah, Christ, etc.

On simliar lines, David Cooke asks 'who do we do our carol services for?'

Anyway, the final straight beckons: 2 Nativity services (we do it in 2 shifts because the church can't hold the 200-300 people who come along), 11pm communion, and then The Day itself. God with us. Have a wonderful Christmas, and may you be immersed in the grace and goodness of Jesus.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vicar Burnout

A new survey of 3000 Anglican clergy reveals that nearly 1 in 5 of us feel 'burned out' at least once a month or more. The survey also states that this is 'not high when compared to other occupational groups" (p6). Well that explains a lot. If 18% of bankers, politicians, journalists, clergy, social workers, teachers, parents etc. are experiencing that much stress, it's no wonder we're surrounded by the fruits of ropey decisions.

Sam Norton has recently posted on the stats of church decline in the CofE. I hope the fact that we're experiencing similar levels of stress to everyone else doesn't lead the powers that be to go 'oh, that's alright then'. There are some serious structural problems with the CofE, and the jury is still out on whether the parish system is an effective neighbourhood mission strategy or a doddering sacred cow which needs to be put out of its misery before it topples over and crushes us.

Update: for some thoughts on where and when churches are effective in mission, try this (HT Thinking Anglicans)
"•If you want Christianity to shrink, give it wealth and privilege and back it up with the power of the state.

•If you want Christianity to show surprising resilience, suppress its structures and persecute its people.
•If you want Christianity to thrive, drop it into a free market environment and force it to hustle."

There, that was cheery! Merry Christmas everyone!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sex Education and Carol Services

"Daddy, what's a womb?"
"Mummy, what's a virgin?"

Anglicans who worry about children starting sex education classes too early at school need to work out whether we should sing 'O Come All Ye Faithful' with children present. Mind you, at least it gets parents talking to their kids about sex in a Christian context.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Linebacker: This Aint No Sleigh Ride Baby!

Sure, I bring this one out every Christmas. But it's fab.

Clegg on Marriage Part 2: We'll Take Your Toddlers

Following on from yesterdays post about Nick Cleggs views on marriage, there's also a deep contradiction at the heart of Cleggs speech on how to spend government money. Take this:

...I have made clear that intergenerational social mobility is the principal objective of the Coalition’s social policy. And why I have been so determined to increase our investment in the vital early years, including, recently, by extending the new two-year old offer to an additional 130,000 toddlers in working families

and a reminder of what Clegg said about state finance and marriage:
We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.

Now I may be being thick here, but I can't actually see the difference between using state money to encourage marriage and using state money to encourage a particular model of childcare. Both are using state money to incentivise/encourage/nudge (pick your own) a particular family form.

In the first case, the family form is of two working parents, and the state picking up more of the childcare. This has various benefits for the government: a more flexible labour market, a chance to get it's OFSTED-regulated hands on the children of 'problem families' at an earlier stage, and some good headlines about spending money on kids. It also has benefits for families where both parents want to work (or need to work to pay for mortgage, student fees, fuel bills, you name it) it's less costly to do so with small children. It also extends the pressure on new mums to go back to paid work, and basically says that the government would prefer them doing this than the work of parenting.

So this isn't actually about whether the government should subsidise or incentivise a particular family form. It's politics: being sniffy about marriage puts clear yellow water between Clegg and the Tories, spending money on kids is like motherhood and apple pie. Unless your a mother of course, because you're being told that what you do doesn't matter as much as if you were on the checkout at Tesco. Clegg is simply continuing the social engineering begun under New Labour: let the state raise your children, now you go find your place in the economic machine.

If Clegg really wanted to be radical, he would make the offer of free childcare conditional. Not means-tested, but linked to some form of parenting support and training, such as Positive Parenting (used extensively by our local Sure Start centre). That would incentivise a social good (good parenting), whilst promoting the governments aim of early intervention in troubled families.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nick Clegg's Straw Bride and Groom

The much trailed speech by Nick Clegg this morning has this passage about marriage:

The institutions of our society are constantly evolving. Just look at the way the roles of men and women, and attitudes to marriage and divorce, have changed over the last century.

We should not take a particular version of the family institution, such as the 1950s model of suit-wearing, bread-winning dad and aproned, homemaking mother – and try and preserve it in aspic.

That’s why open society liberals and big society conservatives will take a different view on a tax break for marriage. We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.

As other people have already pointed out, this is a straw man and woman. I don't know of anyone who promotes marriage who is lobbying for the vision which Clegg describes here. It's not the marriage Nick Clegg has, and as far as I'm aware the tax break for married couples, small as it is, isn't means tested on the basis of ties and aprons.

More importantly, Clegg is sawing off the branch he sits on. The substance of his speech is an explanation of why a liberal vision of an 'open society' is better than either the conservative or the socialist vision. At the heart of the 'open society' is social mobility, the principal that a childs circumstances of birth shouldn't determine how life turns out for them. There are few things more destructive to a childs life chances than a fractured home life, and, for all its faults, marriage promotes stability.

The Centre for Social Justice points out that family breakdown among unmarried parents is much higher than among those who are married. This in turn has marked effects on poverty, education, mental health, ability to form successful relationships etc.
Liberals have been at the forefront of the campaign to recognise civil partnerships: a chance for people in committed gay relationships to formalise and mark their commitment to one another. It seems slightly odd that at the same time, Clegg is basically saying that this kind of ceremony doesn't really matter, and isn't something that society should value or promote.

If there is a family form which does the best job at promoting the kind of environment where both adults and children can thrive, then why shouldn't the government promote this? After all, it is promoting other social structures - the same speech mentions the extension of nursery education to more 2 year olds. That's using government money to promote a social structure: more 2 year olds raised in state/private education facilities and raised less in the family home.

Final point: there's a deep ideological problem in Clegg's speech. Whilst Labour saw the state as the answer to pretty much everything, in Clegg's 'open society', everything is about the individual. No merit is attached to social structures, even if they are ones valued and embraced by large numbers of individuals. The place of families, neighbourhoods, unions, charities, political parties, co-ops, churches is mentioned but ascribed to 'conservatism'. Maybe he wouldn't go so far as to say 'there is no such thing as society', but Clegg doesn't seem that far away. I certainly couldn't imagine him talking about the kind of mutual dependence and community life depicted in Acts and 1 Corinthians. Cleggs world consists of individuals and institutions (in constant need of reform by individuals), but very little in between. The liberal self sounds mightly lonely.

Define 'Necessity'

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Beatbox Nativity wins the Nativity Factor

Probably not too surprising, but Rev. Gavin Tytes superb Beatbox Nativity has won the Nativity Factor competition. BBC has picked up the story.

Full list of winners here, great to see The Greatest Story Ever Told and Three Kings amongst them.

well done to the competition organisers, and everyone who took part.

Yeovil Travel Survey - get that bus stop you've always wanted?

Peter Seib highlights a local travel survey to help the council plan better where to put buses, parking, cycle routes etc. If you live in the Yeovil area or come her for work/shopping/leisure etc., please do fill it out, and let other people know about it. You can find the survey at and you could win a helicopter flight if you fill it out. (If I win, I'll be auctioning mine, the idea of going up in a chopper gives me the willies)

Unfortunately the survey seems mainly aimed at people who travel to and from work. However, there are various comments boxes to add your own thoughts, so I've added mine about access from new estates, cheaper tickets for families (£10 for a family to get in and out of Yeovil at the moment) etc.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Christingles are Coming!

all ready for the hordes at St. Peters this afternoon.

Taking my temperature

"Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to.

They don't have to trust in God if the unexpected happens-they have their savings account.
They don't need God to help them-they have their retirement plan in place.
They don't genuinely seek out what life God would have them live-they have life figured and mapped out.
They don't depend on God on a daily basis-their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health.

The truth is their lives wouldn't look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God"

ht David Cooke

I hate the internet, life would be much more comfortable if I didn't keep coming across stuff like this.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It Aint Broke

48 school exclusions and now a community leader, gang leader to prison worker. The power of the gospel to transform lives.

It's 50 years since Ibuprofen first blessed our existence. It's great for headaches. But for any other spiritual ailment, I recommend a dose of Andy Hawthorne:

"It's aint broke!" absolutely.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Military Wives 'Wherever You Are': Community, Choir, Connections

"If you couple the positive effect of music with recent studies of happiness - which repeatedly show that it is our relationships with family and friends that make us happier than anything else - it is not surprising that choirs can have such remarkable transformative powers for good. Combining singing with new friendships is a potent trigger for happiness.

Christmas is one of the times of year when even singing refuseniks are tempted to belt out a tune; only a true festive humbug goes through the entire holiday season without mumbling a single carol. I am not religious, but I love Christmas music; there are few experiences in life that rival the exhilaration of communal singing in a  packed church or hall with an organ or orchestra thundering away, the voices and instruments united." (Eleanor Mills, from the Sunday Times at the weekend, on the Military Wives song below)

Questions & observations
1. Would choirs be so popular if it weren't for Gareth Malone?

2. If Mills is right, how come church choirs have been in decline for decades? Have we missed an opportunity for outreach and community connection, or does the fact that church choirs are there to lead worship, rather than as a form of recreation and community, mean this is difficult?

3. A local singing teacher has just formed a Community Choir which based at our church and under the St. James name. Within a month around 40 people have signed up, and they debut this evening at Brimsmore Garden Centre for our Christingle service there. The age range is 16-70. Enthusiastic and well-connected leadership is a key part of this, but I'm amazed at how quickly it's engaged people, and how well it brings folk together across the age spectrum. 'why didn't we think of this before?' is a question that keeps occurring, but maybe this is just one of those things that has to be done at the right time.

4. The Military Wives song is composed of words penned by the wives themselves, and is being hailed as an authentic alternative to the manufactured dominance of the X factor bandwagon. X factor itself works very hard to personalise the connection between the audience and the contestants - lots of stuff about 'story', and 'journey', carefully leaked stuff to the press about contestants and judges alike, so that in the end the song itself matters less than the connection made between voters/consumers and the show. The trouble is it's all fake.

Reflecting on churches, do we sing any songs with lyrics written by members of our congregation? Does the whole process of expressing our faith to music work best when it's contracted out via the royalties system to people who do it for a living?

5. Just to note in passing the lyrics of the song above: prince of peace, prayer, hope, light and darkness. All sounds pretty familiar. This isn't a calculated raid on Christian imagery to beef up a pop song (cf Coldplay), and there isn't a million miles between spiritual language and love language

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How hard can it be?

Struck by these words about John the baptist, longed for and loved by his parents

"Being loved and wanted was the best possible launching pad for the rest of John's life. Indeed, being valued and appreciated is rocket fuel for the future of any child.

We must be very tender with those who have not had this kind of start. It's all very well to say how fellow believers should behave, but if you've never been loved it really is ever so hard to be good." (Adrian Plass 'When you Walk')

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We See What We're Looking For

It could have been a pleasant hours drive across rolling Somerset countryside, but it wasn't. By the time I set off from Yeovil, it was already past the scheduled start time for my lunch meeting 2/3 of the way to Bristol. Trying to arrive less than an hour late was frustrated by a series of lorries, dreadful dawdling people going at 58 rather than 60 on the A37, a couple of farm vehicles, and then a pub half a mile from the village it claimed to be in.

Having arrived late, I didn't really want to leave early either, but had to so I could get back to ferry one of our kids to their tennis club. Cue cows on the road, more farm vehicles, a mobile speed camera (oops) etc.

All I saw on the journey was people in my way, things slowing me down, frustrations. And guess what, both journeys were very stressful, and I didn't enjoy either of them. In fact I resented them. And my mental state controlled what I saw - everything became an obstacle.

 - become a sociopath who doesn't care about being late, missing appointments or letting people down. Then I can drive at my own speed and not get stressed.
 - leave earlier
 - do less stuff)

If I'm not careful, Christmas can get like that. Do I see a series of diary commitments, lots of jobs and tasks. Or do I see a celebration that everyones invited to where I get to play host in various locations (community hall, garden centre, church, school). Shepherd or Herod: is Jesus a joy or a threat? Can you tell it's December by the smile on my face, or by the furrowed brow?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nativity Factor Shortlists

Not really time for proper posting, so some more on the Nativity Factor. Now that votes have closed, there are two shortlists, the Adult top 10 here, and those produced in the under-16's category here. It'll now be up to a panel of judges to pick the winners.

The prize is some cash, plus a chance to watch a days live news at the ITN studios. Lets leave aside the fact you can already do that by switching on the TV...... The most likely winners seem to be Lego, who have a starring role in several entries. Winners are picked on 'creativity, style and story', though accuracy to the original Nativity account isn't thought necessary. Make of that what you will!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

U2 as Worship Leaders?

In anticipation of the launch of the U2 Studies Journal (I kid you not), try this article, on how U2 'lead worship' at their live gigs. Whether you think they actually do or not, it's still a good piece on what's involved in leading worship in the first place....

...well, that is if you think 'worship' means 'concert style event with audience participation'. There is so much more to it than that. But that's another post.....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Truth about Depression

I know, I keep going on about this, but the sooner we reach the day when we can as freely admit to depression and mental illness as we can to a cold, I'll stop. I promise.

In the meantime, please read Daydreamer

Yesterday I felt as low as at almost any time in my life and was very aware that somehow a way of climbing out of the pit was necessary before it became too difficult even to attempt.

After a night awake, to get ready for church was nearly impossible, but, knowing it might just make the difference I did so,

The church was empty when I arrived, decorated for Christmas and looking beautiful and I hated it. Felt like howling aloud but hearing footsteps quickly started to 'robe up'. As more people arrived, and we had the choir run-through I thought, "I know the anthem better than I thought".

A tiny, tiny glimmer of satisfaction, but enough to get me through the service to half-way......

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Vote Now for the Nativity Factor

The rather brilliant Nativity Factor competition run by ITN is now closed to new entries. Voting is now open, but only until midnight tomorrow, though it looks like you can only vote via Facebook.

There's around 70 entries, of which there's a selection of my favourites below. Expect to see some of these in a Christmas service around Yeovil in the next couple of weeks.

probably the best of the serious ones, apart from the example vid put together by ITN themselves -

what's your favourite?

An Apple A Day Gives the Gospel Away


All through one app (amazing prince of peace).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wikio/Ebuzzing most influential Religion Blogs for November

Update Lesleys Blog has the top female bloggers in the rankings, and some funky charts.

A major reshuffle in the rankings this month, and it looks like Wikio themselves have been taken over by something called Ebuzzing. The 'influence' rankings are based on links from other Wikio-registered blogs, so it's a blunt instrument. However the calculation now includes recommendations via Facebook and Twitter, so it's less blunt than it was. My stats tell me that I had 4 links from other blogs last month, but 100 tweets, which is quite startling.

1. EChurch blogs
2. Nick Baines
3. TallSkinnyKiwi
4. Islam in Europe
5. Thinking Anglicans
6. The BIGBible Project
7. Bartholemews Notes on Religion
8. Lesleys Blog
9. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
10. The Freethinker last months no.1. It must be Christmas
11. The hermeneutic of continuity
12. is not a blog
13. Madpriest
14. Peter Saunders - Christian Medical Comment
15. iBenedictines which I just looked at for the first time, very good. Well of course it is, or it wouldn't be in this list I guess....

So the 3 Wise Men (sorry ladies) for this month are a lay Catholic (or to be accurate 'in the process of converting to Catholicism'), a CofE Bishop and an emerging church leader. They should teach them hip hop and call them Diversity.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Prevention of Young Suicides ('Papyrus') - a more deserving cause than the X Factor.

'Home' by Dave Hart. Great song, but it has a tragic backstory. This email arrived yesterday:

Our youngest son Dave sadly took his own life a couple of weeks ago aged 17. He had been depressed but had slipped through the net with regard to help from the medical services and we were not aware of just how bad he was - he we was the 'life and soul of the party' to his friends - and of course doctor/patient confidentiality meant we were in the dark. We are keen to try and help promote the cause of teenage suicide so that others don't suffer the same fate.

To that end we are releasing a song Dave wrote with a friend last year on itunes, amazon mp3, spotify etc in order to raise funds for Papyrus-UK (a charity dedicated to helping prevent young suicide - ) It has been on youtube already and mentioned over the last week on BBC Somerset and Bristol. The song is called 'Home' - search for 'Dave Hart Home'

If you can circulate details of this and encourage people to download a copy (or copies!) of the song that would be great - the amazon link is . It was released today (5th Dec) and we are looking for maximum sales this week to stand a chance of making the charts and therefore more exposure of the cause. So, any help much appreciated.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Rules for Reverends

Jeremy Fletchers blog is setting out the things we knew but dare not say. Very good. Worryingly, he's up to 30, and I can think of several more (e.g. there's always a point in a funeral service where your mind goes blank and you're convinced you've got an important name wrong)

(instant update: as soon as I clicked 'publish' an ad flashed up for a funeral business. Scary. Might have to go back to writing this stuff on small bits of paper and taping it to lampposts to stay off-radar)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How Bad Things Really Are

So, things are really bad. Average income is now back to what it was in those desultory, poverty-ridden days of, um, 2002. That explains why, in the block of social housing I was looking at the other day, the first sign that people have moved in is the satellite dish on the back wall. Yes things are bad for quite a lot of people, and some of us (but only a minority) are thinking about cutting our Christmas spending from the eye-watering sums of previous years to sums which make only one eye water.

There is still plenty of money to go round. Lets just not make the mistake of outsourcing all responsibility for justice and generosity to the government. Or of mistaking feelings of sympathy and angst for 'the poor' with actually doing something about poverty. It would be tragic if we persuaded ourselves that we were all so strapped that being our brothers keeper would have to wait for an economic upswing.

Ht Liberal Burblings.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Digital Nativity

After yestedays Social Network Christmas, looks like Mary has discovered Google Maps and Joseph has got to grips with some of the apps on his Iphone. I like the donkey at the car hire firm.

thanks to Dave on Facebook for this one. Shame it turns out to be an advert.

PS I'm sure there'll be a thoughtful post up here one of these days, hang in there..... But you may have to wait until after the Christmas Linebacker.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

There's Already Enough Tat In the World

Update: I thought it couldn't be worse but it is. They're selling Henry VIIII decorations too, £8.95.

Dismayed to find this on sale at the York Minster Online Shop.

That's right, you can spend £6.95 on a doll of Rowan Williams to hang on your Christmas tree. Or, if you're one of the many Anglican pressure groups you can buy one and then squeeze as hard as you can to get it to say what you want. Or if you're a journalist you can buy one and put words into his mouth.

But why buy one at all? With the 7 skinny cows emerging from the Nile and no Joseph's stockpile from the years of plenty, I can't see any possible world where this is the best use of £6.95.

Thanks to Huw for the tip off.