Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Can Mammon Be Moral?

Bankers should see their job as a vocation and adopt higher ethical standards, the governor of the Bank of England has said. 

More on Mark Carney's thoughts here, in a BBC report on the 'Conference on Inclusive Capitalism'. The conference, pulling together people who own 1/3 of the worlds investable assets between them (the brain-watering sum of £30 trillion). The 'inclusive' bit seems to be how to share the wealth generated by capitalism with more people. It recognises that capitalism has an image problem, so I'm not sure whether the agenda of a more robust ethic is simple self-preservation, or a genuine concern to do what's right, because it's right, not just because it's of benefit.

Christine Lagarde of the IMF at the same conference: said the changes required both investors and the leaders of financial firms to "take values as seriously as valuations" and "culture as seriously as capital". "Ultimately, we need to ingrain a greater social consciousness - one that will seep into the financial world and forever change the way it does business," 

That would be nice, but it's not going to happen within the current system: how do you award bonuses for moral behaviour? And if you wanted people who valued morals as highly as money, then you wouldn't be employing people whose prime motivation was to get a bonus anyway. The bonus system gives the City leverage over its employees, for Lagardes words to come true, the bosses would need to abandon the power the bonus system gives them, and the workforce would need to become motivated by something entirely different. Capitalism is about making money. It spits out social consciousness like a bad taste. Unless you hard wire fair trade, living wage, etc. into the system through legislation and as a precondition of doing business, the system will carry on as it is. The UK governments failed attempts to persuade banks to lend more to small business as a precondition of state support is one small (by global standards) example of how difficult this is. Nudge theory is not going to work, moral responsibility simply will not 'seep into the financial world'.

Meanwhile in the world of mere mortals, Justin Welby is taking the first steps on deliving on his promise to compete Wonga out of business. With 7m people using high cost credit providers, the CofE is piloting a 'Credit Champions Network' in 3 dioceses. More details here, Looks like it will be an evolving thing, a huge challenge to take on, but exactly the sort of thing the church should be involved in. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Make Lunch

Such a simple, but brilliant idea

13 weeks a year when 3.5 million children who get free school meals, don't get free meals. 1000s of churches with kitchens and volunteers. Make Lunch.

For anyone wondering how to get started, the Cinnamon Network give micro grants of up to £1k to pump prime community projects like this one.

And if you're not sure about catering quantities, you're in good company, Jesus was rubbish at it. Put him in charge of the kitchen, and there's a trail of leftovers - Cana, feeding of the 5000, Emmaus,....

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Vote?

I'll be voting on Thursday in the Euro elections, and I'm about 80% decided who I'll be voting for. I think I'd argue that Christians have a responsibility to vote, that passive abstention is not an option. If we believe God loves this world and wants to bless, heal and remake it, then we have no business opting out of the way it's governed. 

It wouldn't take much to get me arguing that everyone should vote, but then someone will start complaining that that's judgmental and coercive and everyone should be free to make their own decisions (because remember there is no such thing as society, citizenship, duty and so on, just individual free choice) etc. etc. So I'll leave that one for now.

Having said all that, it's not a great choice this year:
 - A party which wants to cut foreign aid and green policies (though see this)
 - A party which says the EU is great but claims in its election leaflet that we have to 'fight' for favours from it. If it is that great, what's with the fighting talk?
 - A party which hasn't said a thing about Europe during the election campaign, and has focused it's main guns on belittling politicians from other parties (literally) and the NHS. Last time I looked, the NHS wasn't run from Brussels, or by local councils, the General Election is next year Ed.
 - A party which has been in government for 4 years, and kicks the can down the road for a further 3
 - A party whose leaflet consisted entirely of policies applicable to the EU, and contained no personal attacks whatsoever. 

Hmm. But if the choices aren't great then I know what to do. And it's not to abstain and walk away.

(thanks to Dave Walker for the brilliant cartoon)

For something more in depth, try this from Ian Paul. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"If my vicar was like you....."

"...generally the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I had a girl tweet me the other day – "I've seen you on the show," she said. "You're the only vicar I know, how do I get my baby baptised?" I'm the only vicar she knows! To me the show was worth doing just for that...
People do say to me "If my vicar was like you I'd go to church."
And my response is, "Your vicar might be like me, most vicars I know are lovely; go and meet your own vicar."
For me this is not about celebrity...we really think God asked us to do it, so we did it.
I'd risk everything for the gospel. I'll risk looking stupid I'll risk looking like an idiot. I'll risk grumblies grumbling at me because one day I'll have to stand there and answer to the one that really matters."
A big amen to that. Rev Kate Bottley on her experience on Gogglebox. Read the rest here

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


"All our tasks certainly matter to God. on that, the Bible is startlingly clear: 'whatever you do', Paul writes, 'work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.' (Col 3:23-24)

Whatever you do. Not some things you do, not 47% of the things you do, not the things you do in the church, but whatever you do. And God would hardly ask us to do whatever we do with all our hearts, if it were not of some significance to him, even if we ourselves may not think it significant."
(Mark Greene 'Fruitfulness on the Frontline')

"It is easy to quote Jesus famous saying 'My kingdom is not of this world', but what John actually wrote is 'my kingdom is not from this world.' (John 18:36), with the clear implication that, although derived from elsewhere, Jesus kingdom was definitely for this world." (Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone)

Came across both of these in the last 24 hours, they seemed to belong together.

Really enjoying the Mark Greene book, very good accompanying DVD, superb resource for everyday discipleship.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Church of Cheeses

As a change from normal practice, I'm preaching at our local Elim Pentecostal church this Sunday. On hearing this at the tea table, one of my children said 'Elim? Isn't that a kind of cheese?'

A gentle reminder that the church's in-house references which might have made sense a century ago are a foreign language now.

But I'm expecting to find them mature, holy, and served with good biscuits.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Party Political Broadcasts: For Goodness Sake Grow Up

This is the Labour election broadcast for the local and Euro elections. Who on earth thought this was a good idea? It looks like an overlong sketch from Armstrong and Miller that was cut from the final show for not being funny. Dreadful

The Libdem effort, thrown together yesterday and circulated online in response, is slightly better. Well, it's shorter anyway.

There appears to be a conspiracy to make UKIP look like a serious political party, with, what are they called, oh yes, POLICIES.

Grow up, the lot of you. Speaking of which, here's the Greens, which is much, much better, whatever your take on how realistic the proposals are:

compare and contrast the UKIP manifesto, which aside from wanting to cut foreign aid and scrap green energy, has some odd mathematical brains working on it. Lower council tax doesn't go together with more regular bin collections, keeping more libraries open, mending pot holes, cheaper bus services and free parking. And if you cut immigration there will be cuts to NHS services, unless there's a concerted attempt to crack down on the squandering of medical training and resources on vanity surgery. It doesn't add up.

But at least the manifesto bears some relationship to the election itself, so full marks to them for that.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Rev - the Reviews roundup

An outpouring of articles and blogs has greeted the end of Rev., almost enough material for a new series? Here's a few I've read, if there are any good ones missing, please add them in the comments.

James Mumford in the Guardian, 'a secular take on the sacred' that undermines what the church is
really about

Al Barrett from inner city Birmingham, watched 'the Easter morning gathering of the cracked, the broken and the divided' and found it close to home.

Wildgoosechasing found the show affirmed what the church is about, a place where broken people can be honest about their failings

Sam Norton noted how Adam's quest to save the building loomed over the whole series: a question which looms over the whole CofE. It's not without significance that the church where the series was filmed is itself facing bankruptcy after spending £1/2m in the last 2 years simply on maintenance. (Just read about how king Hezekiah had to destroy the statue of a snake Moses had made in the desert. It was made to bring healing, but had become a snare as people had forgotten what it was originally there for, so it was best to break it to pieces. Made me wonder...)

David Robertson: safe to say he's not a fan, the vicar is a social worker 'if God did not exist then Rev would make perfect sense.' "Why is it that every BBC sitcom which features a church has to feature a dying church?" (good point)

Christian Research asked some questions of Christians who'd watched the programme, and found that 63% of viewers would attend a church led by Adam Smallbone

Great summary from Emma of the Easter episode, which truly was superb. 

Irene at eyebelieve on whether Rev was just 'nice' - or whether this is Christian sacrifice in action, going out of your way to welcome the sinner and build bridges. 

Robert Fairclough on the 'sensitivity and realism' of the series. 

Steve Holmes at Fulcrum, comparing and contrasting with Camerons 'Christian Britain'.

The Blog of Kevin has some good posts reflecting on previous series.

Update: Ian Paul has an excellent piece on what Rev says about clergy vulnerability, and notes that there's not much scope for comedy in a growing church. Several links there to other pieces, including Marcus Green's powerful reflections on his own breakdown and how that connected (and didn't) with how Adam was portrayed. 

For myself, I enjoyed it overall, thought the penultimate episode was brilliant, and wasn't quite sure about the final ending. 'You won't let me go apparently, is this what resurrection is?' Um, part of it perhaps, but the final show was more about vocation than resurrection. Whilst this sort of drama requires a small cast of characters in order to work (think Dibley, Father Ted), that means you'll never see a BBC drama on the church with a full building. Sadly, it doesn't look like they're able to give a fair portrayal of evangelicals either, both vignettes in the series (Roland in this one, and the youth church leader in the first series) were unsympathetic. 

Christian Research asked if people would have attended this church, I'd have been interested to know if it made people want to pray more. In the end, what we do as Revs is help people to draw closer to God: homeless, hung-up, paedophiles, pharisees, and all the other normal everyday sinners like ourselves. 

And if nothing else, there's now a great DVD resource available for clergy training.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Coldplay - holy Ghost Stories?

As a gift to us armchair analysts, Coldplay have made the lyrics to their new release, Ghost Storiesavailable a few weeks in advance of the tracks themselves. I've previously had a go at deciphering Chris Martins coded messages, given his ongoing interest in things spiritual.

The lyrics by and large reflect the artwork: a pair of wings in the shape of a broken heart. Several of the songs are about lost love (Anothers Arms, Ink, True Love), and Martin returns to his beloved sky/birds/flight imagery which Coldplay fans will be used to by now.

Spiritually, I wasn't sure what to expect after Coldplays involvement in the neopagan Paralympic closing ceremony. A couple of songs jump out -

"In the darkness before the dawn
in the swirling of the storm
when I'm rolling with the punches and hope is gone
leave a light, a light on.

Millions of miles from home
in the swirling swimming on
when I'm rolling with the thunder
but bleed from thorns
leave a light, a light on. 
leave a light, a light on."

This was the first track released from the new album, to a mixture of excitement and dismay. It's certainly a musical departure for them. The more I look at the lyrics, the more I think of Gesthemane. This could be just about being lost, suffering and lonely, or it could be about 1 person in particular taking all that on himself on our behalf.

I've been listening to The Choirs 'Shadow Weaver' a lot recently, they have lots of songs about finding God in suffering, and here's another one, perhaps:

A Sky Full of Stars
Cause you're a Sky, cause you're a Sky full of Stars
I'm gonna give you my heart
You're a Sky, a Sky full of Stars
cause you light up the path
And I don't care, go on and tear me apart ('yet not my will, but your will be done')
I don't care if you do
Cause in a Sky, cause in a Sky full of Stars, I think I saw you...

...Cause you're a Sky, you're a Sky full of Stars
Such a Heavenly View
You're such a Heavenly View

now it might be that, as on Mylo Xyloto, the words are used for feel/impact rather than meaning, and this is just another step on the descent into vagueness. Or maybe it's trying to find a way of talking about God that doesn't trip people up with the G-word. Why all those capital letters? It's the sort of song a Christian should be singing to God, and probably more real than a lot of our worship songs.

Finally, the closing track O (fly on), takes us up with the birds again:
And I always
look up to the Sky (note the capital letter)
Pray before the Dawn. (or does he just capitalise all the nouns?)

and combines this with a sense of being lost, and of yearning for better things.

Maybe it shouldn't seem so odd that a rich, succesful and famous band should sing so much about the intersection of pain and prayer, as they do here, and in last years release Atlas. None of us are immune. God's there in it if you look hard enough and don't give up, and perhaps he's somewhere in these lyrics too.

Martin has spoken about what the lyrics express, and speaks both about brokenness and love. It's interesting to note that he's in regular touch with Bono, who seems to become more and more overt about his faith as time goes on. Martin talks about 'trusting the universe' - I don't know if that's code, or whether it just reflects the language of many people who have a spiritual sense but don't connect it with the God who put it there in the first place.

Previous reviews
Mylo Xyloto
Prospekts March
Viva La Vida

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Custody Chaplains needed for Somerset

Just had this from our Churches Together mailing:

Did you know that from July this year all the custody suites at police stations in Somerset (apart from Yeovil) will be closing? From then anybody arrested within an area from Porlock to Wells to Weston-super-Mare and even beyond will be taken to a brand new custody facility in Bridgwater. Many of these people will be frightened and far from home so the search is on more volunteer Custody Chaplains. There is an urgent need for Christians who are loving listeners, non-judgmental and prayerful. The police are very supportive of this ministry and full training is given. Please spread the word! For more information email ChAT or phone 01934 643533

Here's an earlier post about the Weston custody chaplains project.