Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dying of Embarassment

Cancer survival rates would be much better if we were less embarrassed about going to see the doctor, or were afraid of wasting doctors time, according to a new report.  I can vouch for this; it's taken the repeated encouragement of my other half to get me to the doctor on a couple of occasions in recent years when, left to my own devices, I'd have tried to soldier on and hope things went away. Partly because I didn't want to bother the doctor, and partly because there were certain bits of my anatomy I didn't want exposed to the fresh air of a doctors waiting room.

"As a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor's time.
"We don't know why British people feel like that. It may be that we are more stoic and have a war-time mentality.
"We know that older people in particular can get a symptom and then wait for weeks or months before going to see their doctor."

I must admit, the fear of wasting doctors time is sometimes reinforced by booking in systems, which sometimes seem designed to keep people away from seeing the doctor unless it's absolutely necessary. I appreciate the need to make sure doctors time is well spent, but there is still quite an air of mystique and remoteness about UK doctors. My experience in hospital is often (not always) that the specialists whizz in and out on the basis of spending the absolute minimum of time with a patient, and it's quite hard work sometimes to get information out of people about your condition. I don't know how highly social and emotional skills are ranked in doctors recruitment, but wonder whether a more overtly approachable medical  culture would help.

Despite that, I'm sure a some of it is down to the peculiar British culture of being obsessed by sex, whilst at the same time very squeamish about our own bodies, especially our (insert embarassment-saving euphemism here). And lets face it, a prostate check at a GP surgery isn't a pleasant experience for either party.

More of the report findings here.

Quote of the day: Affluenza and education

" is used mercilessly to put the needs off employers and economic growth ahead of those of children and emotional well-being. Just as the needs of parents have become paramount in most modern childcare manuals, with the damaging regimes dressed up as being for the childs' good (anyone else tried 'the Contented Little Baby Book?'), so with education. The education systems of the English-speaking countries, which purport to be giving children opportunities to become richer than their parents, are actively hostile to the flourishing of creativity and emotional development."

Oliver James Affluenza

Monday, January 28, 2013

Churches: getting rid of your organs in a good cause

NHS campaign asks Christians to give blood

No, not that sort of organ.

A new campaign has been launched today to encourage Christians to donate blood and organs as part of their giving and worship:

"Donating blood, joining the Organ Donor Register, or consenting to organ donation from a deceased loved one is a unique gift and one that can truly save lives.”
The NHS needs 7,000 units of blood each day to meet the demand of hospitals. The need for organs also outstrips availability with more than a thousand people dying each year in the UK waiting for an organ transplant.
With millions of members across the UK, it is hoped churches can step in to fill the gap.
The campaign is the first time the NHS has worked alongside the churches on a national initiative of this kind.
Churches and individuals will have the opportunity to become blood and organ donation advocates, playing an active role in informing congregations, family, friends and their communities about how they can help save more lives.

More here, official CofE piece here, including this comment by the 'lead bishop on healthcare'
"I would encourage individual Christians and local churches to engage with the campaign as we help address an important social issue and generously serve the communities to which we belong. Being willing to give our time, money and gifts is a significant aspect of our stewardship of what we have received. But this applies just as much to the blood that flows in our veins; and the organs that are such an intrinsic part of our bodies."

The campaign website is called fleshandblood, with some fairly stark stats on the need for more blood and organ donation in the UK,  

and here are the upcoming blood donation sessions in the Yeovil area, via the very handy online session searcher.

Great campaign: to my shame I've not donated blood recently, so I've just booked in.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

One bit of the economy where we'd welcome a recession

A huge increase in gambling addicts will make Britain's obsession with online betting a £2bn business. New evidence reveals that the number of people in danger of becoming problem gamblers has reached nearly a million, while hardcore addicts have doubled in six years to almost 500,000. 

The Independent is reporting on a staggering rise in problem gambling, despite the recession. It's bizarre that with a triple-dip recession in most parts of the economy, our boom areas are things like gambling and cosmetic surgery

Campaigners and support groups find it increasingly difficult to cope. Visitors to GamCare's website rose by more than 100,000 in 2012 compared with 2011. The charity predicts it will answer more than 44,000 calls this year – a 22 per cent rise on 2012. Of people needing GamCare's help last year, 34 per cent of all callers had problems with the internet, second only to betting shops (46 per cent). While 18 per cent used the internet as their primary location in 2011, this rose to 23 per cent last year. More than 20 per cent of the callers were under 18.

It's good to see at least one major media outlet putting this on the front page. I wonder if any of the others - many of them dependent on gambling for advertising revenues - will follow suit. The current government seems reluctant to change the law on gambling, but we've seen what happens to David Cameron if enough people make enough noise..... 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Church re-ordering in Middle Earth

pew meme

sheer class at Anglican Memes. Back to Sermonator mode.

(a word of explanation, if you're wondering what on earth this post is about)

Marriage Proposal. The Government One.

Someone asked if I would be commenting on the Coalitions legislation on same-sex marriages. I'll leave that to the official CofE spokesman, as I agree with most of his statement and there's currently too much going on in the non-virtual world to get into writing lengthy pieces on here. Here's an edited version:
"...... As we have repeatedly made clear to officials, we regret that more time has not been made available before publication of the Bill to give every detail the attention it deserves. We will wish to comment further when we have had the opportunity to examine the provisions in the Bill more closely.
"The Church of England however continues to hold the view, set out in doctrine and Canon law, that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been part of the glue that has bound countless successive societies together. I welcome the opportunity that civil partnerships have given to enable same sex couples to mark and celebrate their commitment to each other. Further, I recognise that there is a range of views amongst the membership of the Church of England. I do not however believe that holding to a traditional understanding of marriage is, or should be, regarded as a discriminatory position.
".... For the Church of England, in common with other denominations and faiths, one central test of this Bill is whether it will preserve and guarantee religious practice and religious conscience. We recognise that the Government has sought hard to do so in the drafting, but as the legislative process continues we shall wish to press serious questions about the implications for wider society, for the significance of procreation and upbringing of children as part of the purpose of marriage, the effect on teaching in schools, and the work of chaplains and others with religious convictions who are involved in public service delivery.
"We have also continued to raise questions about whether it is wise or appropriate to legislate at speed on a matter of such fundamental importance to society, when the proposal was not in any major party manifesto, the Coalition Agreement or the last Queen's Speech. The lack of a clear mandate and the absence of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to give pause for thought."
Full text here

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Europe: The Options, Simplified.

1.. In (Nick Clegg)

2. Out (Nigel Farage)

3. Shake It All About (David Cameron)

4. Yes/No/I Disagree With Dave/Not telling you for sure until 2015 (Ed Miliband)

5. So What? (the electorate)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fresh Expressions - encouraging research on CofE church planting

Claire Dalpra, researcher at the Sheffield Centre, talking about research on Fresh Expressions recently done in 3 Anglican dioceses. Some of the key findings she mentions:

 - Out of every 5 members of a 'fresh expression', 1 was already a Christian, 2 are 'de-churched' (people who have been part of a church, dropped out, and now rejoined through the FX) and 2 had no church background at all. So they are clearly working in reaching folk not reached by traditional churches.

 - Fresh Expressions are being established in all sorts of different places, from rural to inner city urban, and over 1/3 are from 'central' or 'Anglo-Catholic' parent churches, which shows that anyone can do this, it's not an evangelical preserve.

 - In the 3 Dioceses surveyed, Fresh Expressions make up 20% of their worshipping congregations, and 10% of regular attenders. So a significant part of the CofE is worshipping in newly planted churches.

 - Over 80% have some form of discipleship development, e.g. small groups, mentoring etc.

 - Rates of church planting aren't slacking off - the fact that most were planted in recent years may reflect an attrition rate, that some of the earlier fresh expressions haven't survived.

It would be interesting to compare the closure rate we're prepared to contemplate for new churches compared with ones which have existed for centuries. I know of church plants with 20-30 members which were closed down because they were beyond the resources of the sending parish. But if you applied that logic to 'inherited' churches then over half the churches in my Deanery would be facing the axe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dance of the Trinity

Enjoy, this is beautiful

(you may get redirected to Youtube but it's worth the trip)

Monday, January 21, 2013

The National Lottery: pet parasite of the nation.

It's amazing how quickly we come to regard institutionalised sin as part of the national furniture:

There are those who claim that to argue against a pastime which gives moments of pleasure in ordinary lives is elitist and snobbish. The truth is the very opposite. It is the Lottery which is the ultimate in social divisiveness. The poor make regular contributions to the rich; in return, one out of many millions will be rewarded and held up as an example of the good fortune which could befall any of them. Could there be a more cynical form of elitism?
If Conservatives truly believed in the importance of work and the market, they would oppose the National Lottery. If those on the left disapproved of exploitation of the vulnerable, their position would be the same. Yet in politics and in the media, it is given a free ride.
Camelot has announced that the Lottery is being revamped. Its central message will, of course, remain unchanged. Your life can be transformed by greed and gambling.
more here
As reported last week, Camelot are doubling the price that Lotterites will have to pay for their weekly fix, offset by rises in payouts to the miniscule number who actually win. Did you notice the big national debate that kicked off? Me neither, with the above article being one of the exceptions.
Gambling is a cancer on the poor, sucking most money out of the most deprived communities. A local set of shops in one of the less prosperous parts of  Yeovil has seen several businesses and retailers fail, yet the bookies carries on. The gambling industry has been strangely immune to the recession, with year on year increases almost across the board even since the banking crash. . 
Meanwhile some of the MPs who are supposed to scrutinise this are in the pay of the gambling industry. One  bad but possibly credible argument for raising MPs salaries is that it will make them harder for vested interests to buy, but with several billion to play with I can see the gaming industry comfortably outbidding whatever salary we give our legislators. Government statistics show that problem gambling has increased, despite the recession, yet what's happening to address this? At least the Camelot price hike might put a few more people off the gateway drug of the Lottery, though I doubt this has come high in their considerations. 
The gambling industry is a parasite, and the Lottery is its equivalent of bread and circuses. If the BBC can devote prime hours each week to promoting the Lottery, then don't expect them to host a national debate on its merits. That's going to have to come from somewhere else, but we have to have it. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life of Pi Theology

(spoilers). There's a profound truth in the ending of Martels 'Life of Pi', which the film thankfully keeps. Most of the book is devoted to the story of Pi's survival at sea in a boat with only a tiger for company, after his boat with a cargo of circus animals sank. There are various fantastical elements to the story, and when Pi finally reaches safety, his story isn't believed, so he tells another one. This is altogether more brutal and grim. The final chapter is an interview with insurance agents, trying to get to the bottom of what happened.

Pi "So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you, and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals of the story without animals?"
Mr Okamoto "That's an interesting question"
Mr Chiba "The story with animals"
Mr Okamoto "Yes, the story with animals is the better story"
Pi "Thank you. And so it goes with God."

All very postmodern: if it doesn't make any factual difference, lets just believe the story that makes us feel better. Truth is based in the reader/hearer, not the author/facts.

I'm in the middle of prepping some teaching material on mission, which involves going back to the Bible narrative and re-telling the story from the mission point of view. I don't think that's doing violence to the plot or direction of scripture, though inevitably it emphasises certain parts, and passes over others. As someone who's fired by mission, am I being truthful, or just telling 'the better story', the one which I can personally connect with, at the expense of accuracy?

On a different topic, Steve Chalke put a large quantity of cats and pigeons in close proximity a few days ago with a piece explaining why he now thinks committed gay relationships are ok, and that the church should affirm them. There are some interesting statements in there - e.g. that 'inclusion' is at the heart of Jesus message (yes and no, and probably not what we mean by 'inclusion'), and you can read this either as a well-reasoned piece explaining his conclusions (if you agree with him) or a warping of the scripture account to affirm homosexuality (if you don't). This might be a 'better story' - it makes the church less offensive to gay people, and there has been a lot of support for Chalke from within the church - but is it true? And how much does that actually matter?

Chalke argues that we've revised our interpretation of scripture over things like slavery and the role of women, generally against the tide of what scripture says, so why not over this? His motivation is explicitly pastoral:

Why am I so passionate about this issue? Because people’s lives are at stake. Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially the young, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which all too often drives these statistics.

I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches, when we blame them for what they are, when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.

So, I face a hard choice; a choice between the current dominant view of what scripture tells us about this issue, and the one I honestly think it points us to.

Here's the struggle: we want both the 'better story', and the true story, and if the two appear to be in conflict then which one do we tweak? The companion piece to Chalkes in Christianity magazine, taking the opposing view, reviews the same Bible texts and comes to very different conclusions. Greg Downes argues that his is the 'better story', one reached by holding fast to Bible teaching:

There are many Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction who have embraced another path – the countercultural and costly teaching of the Bible, and perhaps for obvious reasons, choose, by and large, to remain anonymous. They too have a story to tell, and often it is one of discovering that applying the teaching of scripture to their lives has become Good News to them. This is not to say it has been without pain and sacrifice, but in the midst of this, they have come to discover a redemptive gift. We need to salute these brothers and sisters as the courageous overcomers they are, and examples to all of us of sacrificial obedience.

Pilate asked: 'what is truth'? The truth is that Jesus, and God's dealings with us, are both the true story and the better story. In postmodern culture we are more likely to opt for the better story and sit light to truth. 'So it goes with God'? No, God is not the God of our own imagination, he is the Truth, but he is also the Way and the Life. God's truth is freeing and life-giving. But if we decide in advance what we think will be freeing and life-giving, then that's our story, not His.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prayers in the Event of Snow

At time of writing there are, surprisingly, no  'prayers for a snowy day' on the Church of England website. They are normally hot of the press with this kind of thing. So just to get the ball rolling:

If it snows let it be sticky
Or making snowmen will be tricky

but I'm sure you can do better than that. Or try the #snowprayer hashtag on twitter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Euro Court judgement - reading the small print

Interesting commentary on the European court judgement in the inbox today from the Christian Legal Centre:

Steps Forward

The Court held that Nadia Eweida's 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion' had been infringed by British Airways' decision to prevent her from wearing her cross visibly.

In the other cases, the European Court decided that decisions of the UK Courts were within the 'margin of appreciation' (discretion) that it allows to national Courts - but in so doing it challenged many of the principles adopted by UK Courts and asserted by the British government.

  • So for example, the UK Government had made the remarkable assertion that the cross was not a generally recognised Christian symbol. It also suggested that since wearing the cross is not compulsory for Christians, it is not a protected freedom. The European Court ruled that, in principle, wearing the cross is an expression of Christian faith and so is a freedom to be protected!
  • Again, the UK Courts had held that beliefs about marriage as between a man and a woman was not a core component of Christian belief and so not protected. The European Court said that these beliefs were part of Gary and Lillian's Christian identity and so were in principle protected!
  • The British Government suggested that because the individuals were free to resign and find other jobs, there had been no infringement of their freedom of religion - in other words, 'your freedom to resign secures your freedom of religion'. The European Court ruled that 'freedom to resign and find another job' is not sufficient to guarantee religious freedom.
These are significant breakthroughs and will be a great help in contending for Christian freedoms in the UK Courts in the future.

Further to Go

However, it was very disappointing that in Shirley, Lillian and Gary's case, the Court ruled that, although their religious freedom had been infringed, the circumstances had justified that interference.

In Shirley's case, 'Health and Safety' was given as the justification. The European Court said that it was not in a position to examine the application of the Health and Safety policy. It had to assume that it was justified, as the UK Courts had suggested. However, no credible Health and Safety risk was ever demonstrated by the hospital.

In the case of Lillian and Gary, the European Court said that it was necessary to restrict their freedom in order to protect the freedom of others.

However, in both cases, it would have been possible to accommodate Gary and Lillian's conscience, without there being any danger of anyone being denied a service. This important point will continue to be made.  

In what's now effectively a secular democracy, it's not surprising that 'religious' rights move a bit further down the pecking order. There seems to be such a diversity of views about marriage around at the moment that I'm  not sure how long the traditional view will be seen as a 'core component' of Christian belief.

We have to continue to try to strike the tricky balance between not being doormats ('turning the other cheek' meant refusing to be treated as a slave or an inferior, if someone struck you on the right cheek it would be a backhanded slap, an insult. Turning the left cheek meant 'at least hit me as an equal', it was an act of non-violent defiance) and not being bolshie. Mind you, I'd still rather live under this regime than in just about any Muslim country you care to name. Egypt? Indonesia? IranQuite a lot of other places? I'm hoping there are some good examples to the contrary but can't think of many, and it's bad news for converts from Islam pretty much everywhere. If we want to stick up for the persecuted, there are still far too many global candidates that put the cases above into stark perspective. And it seems to be getting worse, not better.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Justin Welby: Banks, Service and Society

There's an excellent article by Justin Welby on the banking crisis and our response to it, summarised in the Independent yesterday. He makes several good points (quotes in blue):

 - The free market has failed, and always will, because it's got people in it (it is clear that rational market theory and its relatives have been undermined by the events of the past five years. Adam Smith’s general cynicism about the tendency of any group of business people, when meeting together, to create a cartel and ensure maximum profitability, has been shown to be justified, both in its own terms and as a general reflection (which he understood well) of the susceptibility of human-made systems to human failings.)

 - we had an economic blind spot to financial services, and came to rely on them too heavily. When you realise that betting shops are included as a 'financial service', that should ring a few alarm bells.

 - Financial services have served only themselves, and lost sight of a wider social purpose. Welby notes the failure of financial services to enable society to flourish -- what in Catholic social teaching is known as the “common good.” Much of the financial-services industry became essentially self- regarding, and one result was that small and medium-size businesses as well as poor areas were neglected, often unable to obtain credit.

Welby's prescription includes:
 - see banking as a utility (separated from investment banking) like water or gas, and treat it as such. 
 - avoid complex regulations - they tend to be hard to enforce, hard to follow, and serve as a job creation scheme for lawyers but not much else. 
 - have professional qualifications for the financial sector, including an ethical dimension: qualifications that enable people to reflect on their own conduct and examine their own consciences as a matter of self-discipline, in the same way as they seek to balance their book at the end of a trading day.

He concludes:
There are no simple answers to the current crisis in banking, but there are simple principles. They come down to saying that financial services must serve society, and not rule it. They must be integrated into the economy, not semidetached. They must recognize human fallibility, not assume the effectiveness of human imagination.

These three principles would work well for most organisations, including the church. A church which serves society, which is integrated into it, which recognises its own fallibility and doesn't assume it's right.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spiritual but not religious pt 2. Why do spiritual people avoid religion?

The research into the mental health of those who are 'spiritual but not religious' produced a flurry of comments a few days ago. Ht to Thinking Anglicans for a link to this Guardian piece. Here are a couple of choice quotes:

In the US, religion tends to carry associations of freedom. I remember an American priest once saying to me, when I expressed amazement at the prevalence of religiosity in the US, that Americans came from Europe fleeing religious persecution. The two words "religion" and "freedom" naturally go together in the American psyche.
In Britain, though, it appears that many individuals view religion as an impingement upon their spiritual searching. Christianity, say, is felt to constrain life – perhaps because of the negative attitudes it projects about gay people and women; or because it presents belief as more important than growth; or because it looks more interested in sin than enlightenment. If that is so, the new research is a striking indictment of the failure of British churches to meet spiritual needs: individuals are not just not coming to church, some are becoming mentally ill as a result of religious failure.

Only in the lives of others can we make something rich of our own life. To be spiritual but not religious might be said to be like embarking on an extreme sport while refusing the support of safety procedures and the wisdom of experts who have made the jump before. Spirituality is like love: more risky than you can countenance when you're falling for it

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Betting shops, banks, they're all the same apparently

Two shocks today

1. I found myself agreeing with Harriet Harman
2. Discovering that betting shops are considered a 'financial service'

How on earth is giving people the chance to gamble a service?

Facebook: Don't Believe What You Read?

I'm one of over 3000 people on the 'Yeovil Real News' Facebook group, which serves up a mix of news stories, road closures, adverts for Zumba classes and the like. Twice in the last week the group has been taken in by wrong information.

Firstly, a definite hoax - a local pub burnt down, and someone posting under a false name announced a candlelit vigil with hymns and a cake. We should have smelled a rat, but instead over 50 people, including local councillors, turned up at the appointed time. They were rightly pretty miffed, though at the same time it showed community support for the pub.

The other day a story spread that some playstation consoles had been stolen from the hospital. Long before anyone (including me) had said 'are we sure this is right?', group members were queuing up to offer replacements, digging out old games consoles and offering support to the hospital. Again, it was a demonstration of community support. But it turns out the story isn't true, and the hospital are now checking how the rumour started. It's not a scam, just (probably) some second hand information that wasn't accurate. But once that information is passed on to 3000 people, it's hard to put it back in the box.

It's a steep social media learning curve. A few things I'm mulling over
 - checking the facts, even if you doesn't sound as compassionate as you want to sound by doing so. "Isn't this dreadful what can we do to help?" is, and sounds, compassionate. "Are you sure this is right?" doesn't, and sounds sceptical. But it might be a better response in the long run.

 - the crowd can swarm in both directions. There was some pretty tough stuff said over a recent Youtube video of some of Yeovil's younger citizens. People can fall over each other to condemn, and people can fall over each other to help. It's easy to get swept along with the crowd, but it's not always right. The heart runs faster than the mind.

 - how do we prevent people from getting cynical? It's clear that people want to help where help is needed, but will people be less generous next time round because they're wary of a story not being true?

 - don't always take someone else's word for it. And that goes for everything, not just on Facebook. Lots of people are trying to sell us things, influence us, give us a leg up onto their bandwagon. We play along because it's easier, takes less work, and want to be liked. It's a bit more effort to find out for ourselves, be our own person. Then, as Justin Welby said the other day, we might get past the labels and find out the truth.

 -  I struggle with being both a local vicar and part of these groups. Things I might write as a local person, put into the mouth of 'vicar says' and splashed in the local paper (it happened a few weeks ago) don't quite sound the same. I'm increasingly aware of the local paper raiding social media for stories, which makes me more guarded about my contributions.

 -  I'm not sure what expectations there are out there, if any. I know of one vicar who is in touch with hundreds of folk in his community through Facebook, it's one of the main ways for people to connect with each other, and finds this a real dilemma e.g. when mediating in disputes and being seen as 'taking sides'.

 - why am I posting this here, rather than on Facebook?

How do other people approach this, or do you steer well clear?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

No Skivers, No Strivers, Just People

‘The loss of a division is a statistic, the death of an individual is a tragedy.
“We could say the same today about unemployment.
“It is something which, except for the bravest and toughest, wears people down, and through it our economy tells its victims the lie that they are worth nothing.
“As a Christian I start with the principle that every human being, because they are made and loved by God, is of infinite value.”
Justin Welby, writing in the Northern Echo, which he guest edited yesterday. 
Not a million miles from the kind of thing Rowan would have said either. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Forget Mission

I came across the following snippet in an Anglican course designed for local churches. It's an audio interview, and I'm still chewing it over

How is the local church best equipped to meet the challenge of being missionary?

"By forgetting that it's to be missionary, but remembering the extent of God's love for us, and demonstrating God's love for us. If we do things because we are trying to be missionary, we will fail. If we do things because we have been loved, we are called to love, and we practice love, then we will effectively do mission. But if we do mission because we ought to, (or from guilt, a sense of being holier than thou) we will fail."

I'm struggling with this on several fronts:
 - Jesus gave the church a clear mission, and it's reinforced in the New Testament. The recent history of the Church of England is that we have forgotten to be missionary, and just assumed that being nice and meeting once a week would suffice to disciple a nation. That's been, to use the lingo, an epic fail.

 - It creates a false dichotomy: the assumption that people are only overtly missionary from a sense of guilt, obligation or a sense of superiority. In my experience, those aren't the only reasons why people are motivated to mission. I don't see that in Jesus, Paul, Peter or the other early missionaries, or in more recent examples like Jackie Pullinger, Brother Andrew or the Chinese martyrs

 - The church has obligations, those laid upon it by Jesus, because we don't naturally love, forgive, make disciples etc. and so his clear marching orders to the church hold us to the course, strap us to the mast, of things we might otherwise find too hard or shy away from.

 - The church is not called to do mission, it is called by God to share in his. We have a vocation. In the end it's not about God's love for us, the church, or individuals, but about his love for the whole of creation, and the church called to be partners in redeeming it.

 - As a local mission enabler, I'm not quite sure where all this places my role.

It feels like it takes one aspect of the witness of the church (the regular refrain of the New Testament that the quality of the life and love of Christians is a witness to Jesus, one picked up well by Graham Tomlin in 'the Provocative Church') and turns it into the whole of the witness of the church. In fact, one reason the NT stresses the quality of community life and mutual love, is because it is missional. Mission and love are inseparable, rather than one entirely swallowing the other.

Or am I missing something?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bishops and Church Growth

I've recently  posted the following discussion starter on the CofE's Church Growth Research Programme discussion forum:

I've recently joined the Vacancy in See committee for our diocese, and we're choosing a new bishop this year. As a leader in mission, the bishop has a crucial role both in setting the tone for growth in the Diocese, as well as strategic and spiritual leadership. What is people's experience of the difference that a bishop and his (amend in 2014 to his/her) leadership can make to local church growth? 

I notice than in some Dioceses there are episcopally lead growth strategies in place (e.g Sheffield) - how effective are these? What difference to they make? Can we realistically expect a new bishop to make any difference to the year-on-year decline that we currently have?

please respond here, or over there, whichever takes your fancy.

Update: there is a post and thread here on John Richardsons blog on this topic, though the comments rapidly run off topic.

New Year, New Blogs

Just in case you're getting a tad jaded with reading posts about sex at Thinking Anglicans, posts about sex at Anglican Mainstream, posts about sex at An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy (there's a pattern here - Ed), here's a few new blogs to look at.

These are culled from the Ebuzzing 'religion and belief' blog lists, they rank them each month but the data collection is seriously up the creek. Most of the top ones will probably be familiar, so these are from the lower reaches, but worth a look.

Resistance and Renewal: great passion for justice and the poor, I wish we were having more of our Anglican discussions on blogs like this, and topics like this.

The Vicars Wife  - latest post is a very useful and powerful set of questions to use at the start of a new year. Print them off and book that quiet morning now in an undisturbed place.

Thorns and Gold - on faith and suffering, Ht The Church Sofa 2012 awards

Jake Belder - mainly about theology, some good links, almost 10 years in the blogosphere which makes him a serious veteran.

Living Wittily  really good, better to visit than me try to describe the content & style. Great reflection on Rowan Williams recently.

Psephizo: no I don't know what that means either. Blog by Ian Paul, tutor at St. Johns Nottingham, very clear and easy to read, if you're a preacher, worship leader, interested in Biblical studies or Anglican matters it's worth a look.

Just Luckie - doesn't blog very often, but some excellent reflections.

Thomas Creedy - I couldn't really cope with the interface on this, but that's because I'm an old fuddy duddy who likes words and text, rather than things that look like an Iphone. So if you're under 40 you'll  probably be ok.

Talking Christian good spread of topics, easy to read, lively style.

Monday, January 07, 2013

New Year Prayers 3 - Prayer of Divine Support

Thou art the blessed God, happy in Thyself,
source of happiness in Thy creatures,
my maker, benefactor, proprietor, upholder.
Thou hast produced and sustained me,
supported and indulged me, saved and kept me;
Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries.
May I live by Thee, live for Thee,
never be satisfied with my Christian progress but as I resemble Christ;
and may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct
grow hourly in my life.
Let Thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.
If others deem my faith folly, my meekness infirmity,
my zeal madness, my hope delusion, my actions hypocrisy,
may I rejoice to suffer for Thy name.
Keep me walking steadfastly towards the country of everlasting delights,
that paradise-land which is my true inheritance.
Support me by the strength of heaven that I may never turn back,
or desire false pleasures that will disappear into nothing. 
As I pursue my heavenly journey by Thy grace
let me be known as a person with no aim but that of a burning desire for Thee,
and the good and salvation of my fellow men and women.

comment: not quite sure where this comes from, I think it's of Puritan stock. The opening line is a cracker, and like every great prayer it begins with God and not with us. The 4th section seems increasingly relevant, not as an excuse to be an idiot, but because, in an increasingly post-Christian UK, fewer and fewer people will understand Christianity, and what makes Christians tick. It's familiar to anyone who reads the comments on any online Guardian religion piece. 

It therefore shouldn't surprise us, though we should be concerned, that a secular court can pronounce that Sunday isn't a special day for Chrisitans. Despite a growing number of non-Sunday gatherings, Sunday is still the main day of worship, fellowship and teaching for the Christian community, and the court seems to have bought the lie that 'you don't have to go to church to be a Christian'. Maybe we are in for a more 1st and 2nd century church, where Christians met before or after the working day on a Sunday for worship. 

But in the meantime the prayer reminds us that the focus is Jesus, becoming more like him, keeping our eyes on him, following his path, because it's his approval that matters most. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

New Year Prayers 2 - Prayer of Thomas Ken

Ken was a hymnwriter, poet, and Bishop of Bath and Wells in the late 1600's/early 1700s. Indulge me in the font, I think it goes with the olde English

Thou O heavenly Guide of our Devotion and our Love,
by teaching us to pray, hast shewed us
that Prayer is our treasury where all Blessings are kept,
our Armoury where all our strength and weapons are stored,
the only great preservative,
and the very vital heat of Divine Love.
Give me grace to call on thee at all times by diligent Prayer.
Ah Lord, I know my Devotion has daily
many unavoidable and necessary interruptions,
and I cannot always be actually praying,
all I can do is to beg of thy Love,
to keep my heart always in an habitual disposition to Devotion,
and in mindfulness of thy divine presence,

O my God, as thy infinite Love
is ever-streaming in Blessings on me;
O let my Soul be ever breathing Love to thee.

comment: I love this, both for the fabulous imagery, and the down to earth realism 'unavoidable and necessary interruptions'. That picture of a flow of love to and from the Father, if I can just be there for 2 seconds a week, would be quite something. And those 4 descriptions of prayer in the first section say more than a lot of entire books. And blogs.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

New Year Prayers - 1 The Methodist Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
 to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

comment: this prayer should come with a health warning. If you pray it and mean it, then be prepared for God to take you seriously. If you pray it and don't mean it, why? Better not to pray it at all, even if it's things you'd like to be able to pray sincerely.

In that respect it's a bit like a lot of hymnody - Christians will easily lie if you set the words to a tune: 'All to Jesus I surrender' (really?) etc. We've begun used to saying and singing words as aspiration rather than declaration, hoping that by saying them often enough we'll eventually mean them. The opposite happens - we become so used to our lips writing cheques that our lifestyles don't cash that the words themselves become worthless. 

So, careful with this one. And (see the post before this one) only pray it if you're praying it with a community, this is virtually impossible to follow through on if you're going solo. 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Spiritual but Not Religious? You're Braver Than I Am

A recent piece of research found that people who claim to be 'spiritual but not religious' are more prone to mental illness than both the non-religious, and members of an organised religion. Echurch blog has the full abstract, including this conclusion:

People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.

'I'm spiritual but not religious' is an increasingly common phrase, the postmodern nephew of 'you don't have to go to church to be a Christian'. Both are nonsense, and, as the research shows, toxic. Christian faith is hard enough without isolating yourself from a supportive fellowship to practice it. Yes some organised religion is about as conducive to genuine spirituality as a crystal shop in Glastonbury, but what religious traditions carry, at their best, is accumulated wisdom, structure and practices for spiritual growth.

The Spectator comments
 the survey might also go to prove the value of that least trendy thing: organised religion. It is a very strenuous thing for the psyche to accept the idea of transcendental power (or whatever you want to call it) without some structure and external guidance. In grappling the eternal questions with little religious routine, the spirtual-but-not-religious are putting too much strain on their subconscious. Organised religion, for all its flaws, does offer support to believers

Which makes our postmodern education experiment all the more concerning. Our schools encourage children to develop 'spiritually' but we are more and more rejecting organised religion as a way of expressing it. Religions are discussed as a form of cultural education, the main goal being to inform young citizens so that they can live in a mutually tolerant society, rather than to introduce people to ways of seeking God and living for him in the world.

So we open up massive issues of meaning and identity but carefully separate them from the religious traditions which take people on the ancient paths through them. A logical consequence of this research is that any exploration of 'spirituality' within mainstream education needs to be done within a faith context, or not at all.

Final thought: one of the factors in the research might be the continuing stigma over mental illness in our society. So if someone with depression is also trying to pray, they may shy away from opening up to others about their condition, for fear of what will be said. Mental illness is, in and of itself, isolating. Which means that churches need to work extra hard to be welcoming places for people who struggle with it.

update: for more on the benefits of good religion, see this piece by Ann Morisy. (thanks Simon M!)

ObesiTV, New Digital Channel for a Bigger Britain

Seizing on post-Christmas-turkey guilt and news that obesity rates in the UK are rising, there are rumours that Rupert Murdoch will soon launch the first UK digital TV channel devoted entirely to British people consuming calories. Early pitches for programmes include:

Downton Flabby: the cumulative effect of sitting around chatting all day, a 7 course meal every night, and having everything done for you by servants, finally catches up with waistlines of the Grantham household.

8 out of 10 Fats: don't know your sub-cutaneous from your polyunsaturates? Don't worry, neither do we, so we'll settle for Jimmy Carr insulting overweight people instead. Remember, offence is never given, only taken, at least that's what the comedians union said.

MidSomerfield Murders: things turn nasty in the biscuit aisle as stocks run low on cut price chocolate digestives.

Coronation Chicken Street: The Rovers Return is taken over by a multinational chain of sandwich bars.

Constipation Sweet: educational programme in the guise of a soap opera, suggesting some pioneering forms of weight loss.

Feastenders: The food runs out in Albert Square, so everyone is miserable. Actually, to be honest, they were miserable already.

Doctor Who Ate All the Pies?: the 'souffle' story arc reaches its climax as the Doctor saves the universe by turning the TARDIS into a giant oven and cooking all the Daleks. There is talk of a new spin-off series based in Rotherham, Time Lard.

Total Pigout: Contestants eat their way through obstacles made entirely of food, whilst Richard Hammond makes fun of them from a studio 7000 miles away.

Top Beer: the presenters are trapped by rising floodwater in a Devon pub, but a local finds a solution in The Hobbit - each one of them must drink an entire barrel of ale, then they can each be sealed into an empty barrel and floated off downstream to freedom. As they float away, the presenters are sure they can hear the sound of raucous laughter behind them followed by a speedboat going in the opposite direction.

Top of the Pop Tarts Not sure this is a food programme?

Dragons Bun: brave entrepreneurs try to persuade Duncan Bannatyne to give them a free cake from one of his front-of-gym cafes.

You have consumed 8.2 calories by simply reading this post, round it up to 10 by suggesting more shows...... Or enter our 'guess the weight of the blogger' competition!

background reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Top posts of 2012

Its too early in 2013 to say anything profound, so here are the most-read bits of this blog from last year:

1. The Leading of the 5000: Redesigning the CofE by a long stretch the most read (3000+ views) and most commented upon (30), which in a way is encouraging. Looks at projections for full-time Anglican clergy and wonders aloud about what kind of church we can sustain.

2. How to Select the New Archbishop of Canterbury not entirely serious.

3. British Summer, Installation failed. which is a pic I cribbed from Facebook, so can't take any credit for this one.

4. Major Minus: Church of England Attendance 1989-2010 One thing you can be sure of, I'm going to keep wittering on about declining membership in the CofE until the coffee is fully and repeatedly inhaled  by everyone involved. Come back in a roughly a month, when the next batch of attendance stats is announced, for more wittering.

5. Christmas and Advent ideas. Perhaps one to bookmark for November now.

6. Keep Calm and Be Forgiven, and yet again the Queen put across a clear and gracious Christian message in her recent Christmas Day outing

7. House of Bishops statement and links roundup: has there ever been a year when Anglicans have spoken/written more and achieved less?

8. How to Advertise for a New Vicar. Very funny home vid 'advert' from a parish looking for a new rev. Hope they got one!

9. Ed Miliband 'I am a person of faith' re-reading this I'm still not sure what I think. Is this another politician testing the elasticity of words to push electoral buttons, or sincere conviction politics?

10. High Church Higgs Boson Joke. which just goes to show that you can compose an entire blog out of daft pictures you find on Facebook, and it will get 5x more readers than one about the persecution of Christians in the Arab Winter, mental health, or mission.