Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How Not To Invite People to Church

Excellent set of videos on how not to invite people to church (or anything else for that matter)

links direct to the Skit Guys website, so you don't get the adverts
Dead Cat

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bishops: How to Misread a Job Description

I am mystified, as to how this list of personal qualities wanted in a new bishop:

1. A deep and confident personal faith
Our new bishop should be a person, clearly captivated by God, whose love of God and life of prayer will equip him to encourage, and engage in a meaningful way with the diversity of church traditions that make up the diocese. He will be theologically literate, confident in scripture and a good/strong teacher of the faith/apologist for the church.

2. A clear commitment to mission and growth
He will have demonstrable gifts in visionary and inspired leadership and be fully committed to working with the Five Marks of Mission. He will promote growth and stewardship in its various forms and build on existing initiatives as well as offering fresh insights. 

3. Experience of working across diverse social, economic, ecumenical and interfaith contexts
He will be able to embrace the many diverse elements that make up the diocese and have an awareness and understanding of the particular issues that pertain to the North. He will have at least some recent urban experience as well as an interest in suburban and rural contexts. 

4. An ability to lead and to manage change creatively
He will take the lead in managing necessary change at parish, deanery and diocesan level, recognising the need to work collaboratively and to delegate as part of that process. He will be bold and courageous in tackling difficult issues: ensuring financial sustainability, helping to steer through the necessary culture change in relation to the balance of lay and ordained ministries.

5. A confident and competent communicator
He will be comfortable and at ease engaging with a wide cross-section of people and be particularly able to connect with young people in churches, schools and HE/FE. He will be able to communicate in a compelling way with the un-churched as well as with members of churches and other faiths. He will have experience of working with the media and be a clear thinker with a warm and engaging delivery.

6. A gifted pastor to clergy and laity
He will be a person of wisdom and integrity with an ability to listen and to get alongside both clergy and laity. He will encourage, motivate and empower others, building up their confidence and self esteem and affirming them in their ministries. He will be open to the ministry of women at all levels of  the church’s life whilst respecting and seeking to hold together those of differing views.

produces the headline 'Church of England diocese asks for gay-friendly bishop'. 'Establishing positive relationships with the LGBT community' is half of one of the 27 bullet points under these 6 headings. Forget being 'captivated by God', a high quality teacher, a leader in mission, a deliverer of change, an empowerer and motivater of other leaders, and all that other stuff.

Because hey, who cares if the Church of England is disappearing up its own Synod, as long as we're being friendly? I'm not decrying bullet point 13b, it's just the utter lack of perspective that frustrates me.

As a footnote, it seems to have taken the Telegraph 6 weeks to break this story after the publication of the original document. Maybe someone with an agenda has had a quiet word? If so, here's an agenda: mission, mission, mission, mission, mission, mission. A.O.B: mission. Who'd have guessed from the article that Manchester had this on their agenda at all?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Justin Welbys Mission Statement

"My key mission is to lead the Church in worshipping Jesus Christ and encouraging people to believe in him and follow him. That's my mission." (source)

Those of us who've become accustomed to a lack of clarity in the leadership of the Church of England had better start getting used to something different. I'm surprised to find myself so surprised at Justin Welby's clarity in statements like this one. But that surprise is quite telling - why have I got used to wordy fluff in the place of clear vision? And it's a challenge too - do I or my fellow church leaders have the same clarity? What is my key mission? 

I've recently been on a 2 day consultation on 'priesthood', and what it is and what it isn't. I've come back with a lot of thoughts, stories, a few insights and helpful quotes, but nothing like the above. And I'm reminded again just how important it is to get alone with God, as Jesus did, to get back to the key mission. So often life is so busy that I lose track of priorities, and end up just responding to deadlines and demands. That's not good enough, and it's no help to the church I lead.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Everything Is Not Fine, But That's Fine

Great post from Katharine Welby on depression, God and the church
Reading the psalms (that oh so regularly quoted ‘you can yell at God, look’ book) I find that I don’t need to have hope every second of the day. In my hopelessness I just need to acknowledge that God is bigger than my illness and he will come through – eventually. Not always easy, but always possible. I go back to Job in the bible, again an inspiration, a man in despair, who maintained trust and faith, but not in a squeaky clean ‘all is fine’ kind of way. In fact, I don’t know that I have yet encountered a single person from the bible who did have a ‘everything is fine’ kind of life. So why do we feel we need to?
The church is the place where hope can be found, but this is only possible if the church is willing to accept that life is not always rosy. The stigma around mental health illness – of any kind, must be eradicated. The bible is full of people who screw up, who get miserable, angry, who hurt and who weep. Even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane found life a little too much to bear and pleaded with God.
My hope comes from an understanding that life is not easy or straightforward. It is complex and frightening, but I have a God who will stand with me every step. It is just a shame that so often his people will not.
We've got a local mental health chaplain coming to speak at church in June about mental health and Christian faith. I long for the church to be a place where God's people will stand with the mentally ill every step of the way, and love them unconditionally. 
Thanks to Richard Frank on Facebook for the link.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Patron Saint for the Persecuted

A Greek boy, with a father from modern-day Turkey and a mother from modern-day Palestine, who grows up to be a soldier in the Roman army. George may be a fitting patron saint for an island whose 'locals' have emerged from many strata of immigration, and continue to do so.

Perhaps the key thing to remember about him is that he was a public servant who faced immense pressure over being a Christian in his place of work. He served Emperor Diocletian as a soldier, and when Diocletian ordered that every soldier should sacrifice to the Roman gods and every Christian in the army should be arrested, George refused to back down on his faith. When a combination of bribes and torture failed to break his will or his trust in Jesus, he was martyred 1710 years ago today.

As I've written before, Aidan is a much better candidate for a local patron saint of England (or in these parts, Boniface, a Devonian apostle to Germany). But George's story points to global issue. Discrimination against Christians in this country is nothing like the vicious  persecution experience in other places - topping the list is another megalomaniac emperor, followed by a raft of places where the official religion (Islam) holds totalitarian sway. But there are signs that our government and public sector culture is hardening against Christians, both globally and locally. There is a steady feed of stories of discrimination within the UK.

The challenge of St. George is for Christians to live with courage, integrity and generosity in the public sector and in the workplace, so that even those who oppose the Christian faith can't find fault in the behaviour and character of Christians. It also calls for Christians to have more confidence in what they believe in.  Only 8 years after George's death, an edict across the Roman empire gave official tolerance to the Christian faith. A year after that came the conversion of Emperor Constantine, and the rest is history.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New end-of-course exam introduced for Mission Shaped Ministry

The full list of questions has just been published by Archdruid Eileen, here's a couple:

10. Is "Enculturation" a real word? Be honest.

11. If you organise a church away day to discuss mission, brainstorm what it's all about, get a decent vision, develop a strategy and come away ready for battle - what are the chances of anything happening?

12. Which of the following do you, honestly, think count as mission?
a) Church Committee meetings
b) Getting alongside the lonely
c) Sharing your personal experience of faith
d) Wearing a witty T-shirt
e) Putting up a "wayside pulpit"
f) Bellringing
g) Tweeting insults at Richard Dawkins.

a fantastic development. 

The FOMO epidemic

This is really helpful:

  FOMO – it sounds like an ominous superbug, doesn’t it? Like MRSA or SARS. Well, the chances are it’s a bug that you have. 

Research by marketing strategist Dan Herman, who claims to have identified and named the phenomenon, shows that around 70% of adults experience FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out.

Psychologist Arnie Kozak explains that ‘FOMO happens when we invalidate the experience we are having because we’re obsessed with the ones we’re not having’. Handled positively FOMO can motivate us to seize opportunities and be open to connections with new people. However, managed badly, FOMO cripples our ability to be fully present because we always have one eye elsewhere, on what could have been or might be instead.

FOMO can manifest itself in the small decisions of life (I should have said yes to that weekend away, they look like they’re having a great time) and larger life choices (I probably won’t stay with this company/church/partner long, I’ll keep my eye out for a better option). Whether it leads to anxious feelings of inferiority in which we feel depressed about our perceived social isolation, or a frantic, restless lifestyle that feels obliged to say ‘Yes’ to everything (even if we don’t really want to go), both are borne out of a desire to be all places at all times.

A symptom of living in a world in which we have increased choice, FOMO is made all the more acute by the use of social media......

I wonder how this affects out ability to worship, to engage with scripture, to engage with community? Can we fully worship God if we are not 'fully present'? Can you have a proper and deep conversation/relationship with someone whose mobile phone is always switched on? Can I meditate richly on scripture if part of me is wondering whether I should be doing something else?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

God is Dead?

Black Sabbath have just released a new track which has sent #Godisdead up the top Twitter trending tags. It's a shame you can't include punctuation in a hashtag, as the full title is 'God is Dead?' That question mark makes all the difference.

Having never listened to Black Sabbath in my life (not intentionally or knowingly anyway) it was quite an experience to treat myself to 9 minutes of this. Riddled with biblical and apocalyptic imagery (I'm sure John, author of Revelation, would have been top billing at a 1st century heavy metal convention), the song concludes:

but still the voices in my head 
are telling me that God is dead
the blood pours down the rain turns red
I don’t believe that God is dead.

Sorry atheists and Nietzche fans, nothing to see here. Try this from another Sabbath track, After Forever:

Could it be you're afraid of what your friends might say 
If they knew you believe in God above? 
They should realize before they criticize 
That God is the only way to love 

32 years later, Black Sabbath are still keeping the faith, in their own peculiar way.

PS 'God' has tweeted in response "A better, more shocking title would be 'Ozzy is alive?' "

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bishop of London's sermon at Margaret Thatchers funeral

Plenty of good things to chew on in Richard Chartres sermon at the funeral today, hearing the introduction on the radio:

After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm.

The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure - even an "ism". Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.
it struck the perfect note, and very clever use of 'one of us'
I also loved this story from Margaret Thatchers life:
One thing that everyone has noted is the courtesy and personal kindness which she showed to those who worked for her, as well as her capacity to reach out to the young, and often also to those who were not, in the world's eyes, "important".
The letter from a young boy early on in her time as Prime Minister is a typical example. Nine year old David wrote to say, "Last night when we were saying prayers, my daddy said everyone has done wrong things except Jesus. I said I don't think you have done bad things because you are the Prime Minister. Am I right or is my daddy?"
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the PM replied in her own hand in a very straightforward letter which took the question seriously.

Start Quote

Her upbringing was in the Methodism to which this country owes a huge debt”
Richard ChartresBishop of London
"However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus. There will be times when we do or say something we wish we hadn't done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again…If you and I were to paint a picture, it wouldn't be as good as the picture of great artists. So our lives can't be as good as the life of Jesus."

What a superb answer, both in what it says, and how it says it - in a way a 9 year old can understand. 
I imagine a lot of what he said will be lost as it refuses to come into proper focus when viewed through the standard political lenses. 
This bit also struck me:
She was very aware that there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to co-operate. These dispositions are incubated and given power by our relationships. In her words, "the basic ties of the family are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue". Such moral and spiritual capital is accumulated over generations but can be easily eroded.
Life is a struggle to make the right choices and to achieve liberation from dependence, whether material or psychological. This genuine independence is the essential pre-condition for living in an other-centred way, beyond ourselves. The word Margaret Thatcher used at St Lawrence Jewry was "interdependence".

Start Quote

...the dominant note of a Christian funeral service, after the sorrow and the memories, is hope”
Richard ChartresBishop of London
She referred to the Christian doctrine, "that we are all members one of another, expressed in the concept of the Church on earth as the Body of Christ. From this we learn our interdependence and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of Society." 
That erosion is happening fast - it's hard to compare with life 20-30 years ago, but there seem's to be a greater sense of dependence, and less of a sense of leadership and social responsibility. From the unscientific basis of membership of local Facebook groups in Yeovil, there are quite a lot of people who will identify a problem and ask what the council/government/parents will do about it, but not very many who will say 'this is my community, so it's my responsibility, what can I do to improve it?' The main direction people seem to channel this in is into charity fundraising: which is good, but it still leaves  it up to organisations/agencies/charities to do the work. 
Sadly Thatcherism is identified less with 'sympathy and co-operation' and more with individualism and the free market, which naturally corrodes community. Big state New Labour hasn't done anything to rectify this. Cameron is attempting to kick-start the 'Big Society' by putting government provision into retreat, and loading charities with more need whilst their financial support declines. 
Margaret Thatcher's comments on happiness are right, but our politicians of all colours haven't really found a way to put them into practice. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Vow To Thee My Country: Idolatry Set to a Good Tune

I vow to thee, my Saviour, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

That would have been a good hymn, reflecting Romans 12:1 "therefore I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship."

But change one word and it becomes something else entirely

"I vow to thee my country...."
Now the song offers to a country, a human institution, what should be offered to God alone: utter devotion,  unquestioning service, the offering of 'the dearest and the best'. It rates the nation as 'above all earthly things'. There's a technical term for this: idolatry. The sentiment wouldn't be out of place in North Korea. 

The second verse, rarely sung, is a barely disguised bit of army recruitment propaganda:
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And the final verse paints a thin gloss of spirituality over the whole thing, so thin it can't even bring itself to mention crude terms like 'heaven' or 'eternal life'. :

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

'Heard of long ago' - a vague suggestion that the author hasn't been in contact with the Christian faith since their infancy? The rest of the 'hymn' would certainly suggest it. Heaven is the stuff of childrens stories, which is 'dear to them that love her' (contrast the absolute demands of v1)  offering the vague promise of a place of 'gentleness and peace', the rewards of faith annexed to nationalist propaganda. 

I can understand why, 100 years ago, the song and its lyrics might have had some resonance, in particular with the horrific events of the first world war. But it's still very hard to see why it's treated as a Christian hymn, or why it's sung in places like St. Pauls Cathedral. It makes Jerusalem look mainstream orthodox.

Having said all that, this morning I conducted a funeral which concluded with 'Bat out of Hell' by Meatloaf, so anything purist I have to say about music and lyrics has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, ...... where?

This is the jolly scene that greets anyone logging in to the Church of England home page. Looks like they're having a great time doesn't it? Really communicates that following Jesus is about taking up your cross, getting out into the real world with the life-changing message of the gospel, and living in the joy of the Holy Spirit. You can just see how hard these people are working to keep that excitement bottled up inside and prevent it from getting to their faces.

Stick around for long enough, and you're treated to some slightly more encouraging pictures. I hope the CofE can find a better pic of Justin Welby than this one. Somehow the glum expressions, robes and throne don't really say 'Jesus' to me.

Here's a couple of alternatives

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thatcher: 'there's no such thing as society'. Cameron: 'there's no such thing as the welfare state'?

It may or may not be a fitting tribute to the former Prime Minister that her final month marked the end of the welfare state, and a return to pre-Beveridge models of charity provision for the poor.

At the end of March, the Social Fund was scrapped. This is a pot of money administered by the Department for Work and Pensions, which, among other things, provided crisis loans. If you were in emergency need for the essentials of life - food, fuel, basic home equipment, appliances for cooking and heating, or access to travel for essential journeys - the Social Fund could help. In 2011-12, just over 150,000 applications for crisis loans were made, and just over £15m was loaned under the scheme.

This has all gone. Here in Somerset, there is now a 'Local Assistance Scheme', so that if you run out of money to pay for essentials, support is put in place. What's the support? A referral to the local Citizens Advice Bureau (a charity), who themselves aren't too keen on the new system. In turn, the CAB will refer you on to another charity:
 - if you need food, 'referral to a local food bank' (charity)
 - if you need essential furniture or appliances 'referral to a furniture recycling charity' (a charity)
 - if you need basic cooking or heating equipment 'referral to a white good recycling charity' (a charity)

In other words, this whole section of the Welfare State is now history. Anyone in need of crisis provision is referred to local charities, and rather than being given loans, people will be given food parcels or recycled/second hand goods.

The provision of this safety net is therefore entirely dependent on the charitable sector. My grasp of political history may be rather basic, but I thought the welfare state was supposed to provide this sort of safety net, so that people didn't have to rely on charity? The Social Fund itself dates back to 1948, when it was called 'Exceptional Needs Payments'.

It's a remarkable and sobering about-turn: Margaret Thatcher claimed there was 'no such thing as society' as she tried to roll back the state. The Coalition is trying the same trick again, but depending on their being such a thing as society, Big or small, to fill the gaps in welfare provision. New Labour tried to make the charitable sector a dependent arm of the state by plying them with conditional grants. Now the grants have gone (and some of the charities that came to depend on them), but the demands keep on rising. If this is the way things are going, there is going to have to be a massive change in our attitudes to charity, and the amount we give.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Legacy of Thatchers Children

The BBC is currently agonising over whether to play Judy Garlands 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead', after a Facebook campaign to propel it into the charts in the wake of Margaret Thatchers death. It's hard to know where to start with this one, but if this is society, then maybe Mrs T was right and we'd be better off without it.

The Bishop of Oxford nailed it yesterdayIt's almost impossible to find moderate opinions, for or against, on her style of leadership. 

Along with appropriate respect for Mrs Thatcher and her family, there's inevitably going to be some attempt to evaluate her legacy. All the usual headlines and newsreel are being replayed over and over: poll tax, Falklands, 'the ladys not for turning' etc. There's an opportunity for something a bit deeper than this, an analysis of what kind of people we've become, and how Thatchers legacy has affected us. There's a supreme irony in the Brixton 'party' ending in the vandalising of a charity shop. Remind me, wasn't our problem with Thatcher that she encouraged selfishness and individualism and didn't care about communities?

Apart from the gross tastlesness of the Garland campaign, there's a massive trick missed here. Why not Billy Bragg, or some of the more thoughtful protest music from the 1980s? Irony has clearly had it's day other wise the Pet Shop Boys 'Opportunities' would be heading back to its rightful place. Having a party or buying an ITunes track on a deregulated internet - Thatcher would be proud of you all, children of hedonism and the free market.

Her passing actually marks the death of an era when politicians believed in something, and had a clear philosophy. Her successors have been pragmatists, with Blair the crown prince. Our politics is now back in the 1970s - a coalition government, and no party offering any kind of radical and principled alternative. Ed Balls saying 'it's not fair' over and over again does not constitute an alternative, and the knee-jerk response to UKIP's showing in Eastleigh shows how inconsistent and reactive our political leaders are. With a stagnant economy, social decay, a looming energy crisis, and reruns of the Sweeney on Freeview, are we mad, in a coma, or back in time? Do we still have the ability to think our way out of this, to set out a clear vision of what we are and what we want to be, to articulate any kind of political philosophy that doesn't have a price tag? Or is our legacy a self-indulgent bit of social disorder and a silly record?

So here's my candidate for a tribute song:

Travelling overseas I was accosted by a studentWho asked me where I came from, she was prettyChildren don't put smack in your veinsLennon cut his teeth hereAnd the party-pooping left wingWouldn't play the Tories game
We're always in the market for an off-beat love affairWith a foreign delegation condescending for a shareOf a pressure cooker spouting steamThat threatens to unloadWith a power so formidableThe Russian bear is in the woods somewhere

Television comedians united in approvalThe drama that confronts you with real people in real timesI'm only in a band because I failed my own auditionYou have to see somebody suffer other than yourself
Right now we're in a jamWe'll call you back when we get straight'Cos Townsend's coming 'roundHe understands, he won't be lateThere's lots of food for thoughtBut not a great deal on our plateThe southerners don't like usWho can blame 'em seems we're always in the spotlight

We're always in the market for an off-beat love affairHeseltine came up now trees are sprouting everywhereMcDonalds finally found us and we're folklore in TurinWe used to pull the ships inNow we're goin' downLook at the state we're in

it has the added advantage of being musically excellent, rather than the kind of thing that makes you want to eat kitchen tiles. Sorry Judy, but there it is. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"The church has forgotten how to dance"

had a preview of some of these at Spring Harvest last week, good to see Martin Smith back doing what he does so well.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

"Every time I click my fingers, a child lives."

Last week Justin Welby co-signed a letter urging countries to keep their aid promises, and encouraged the UK to use it's G8 presidency to make more progress on reducing poverty. With 1000 days to go (well, one or two less now) until the 2015 deadline for the Millenium Development Goals, it's good to be part of a country that has kept its pledges, and hit the 0.7% GDP target for overseas aid. One thing we seldom do is celebrate what's been achieved so far, so this vid from Bono (Ht Mark Meynell) gives some striking stats on the amazing achievements of the last generation. I was waiting for him to click his fingers, but no.

Here's a bit from the letter

 As religious leaders from across the G8 we recommend that our Heads of Government take the following actions when they meet in June. First, fulfil existing commitments to spend 0.7% of national income on aid. Secondly, launch a G8 Convention on Tax Transparency committing signatory countries to prevent individuals and companies from hiding wealth so that it’s untraceable. Thirdly, press for greater financial transparency from governments of developing countries so that the citizens of these countries can hold their governments to account for the money they spend.

Reaching a purposeful consensus on these areas won’t be easy. But, if the political will and moral leadership is forthcoming, this year’s G8 could help to create an environment that encourages the conditions for inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth – conditions that are desperately needed if we are to realise the MDGs and even greater things beyond.
Political will and moral leadership. Everyone is talking about these things in the wake of Margaret Thatchers death. Politics has become much more pragmatic post-Thatcher, but here is one area where conviction and moral purpose are really needed. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Choose a Bishop

If you're in Somerset, there's a chance to be involved in the process of choosing the next Bishop of Bath and Wells, whether you're part of the CofE or not.

At Wells Town Hall, this evening, 7.30pm there's an open meeting with folk from the Crown Appointments and the local 'Vacancy in See' committee, to hear public views on the kind of bishop we need following Peter Price's retirement. I'm told there will be wine, not that that should influence any decision to attend.....