Thursday, April 28, 2016

"My role as a church leader is to empty the church"

Great interview with Adam Dyer, from our own Yeovil Community Church, by the Evangelical Alliance:

So my role as church leader isn't to fill the church, but to empty the church – we run these projects not to get people in to the church but to get the church into the community. That idea that our neighbour is right there, that there's brokenness  right there, that we can share this journey with people. Jesus came bringing the kingdom one act of love at a time, and we as a Church are invited into this movement.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Suffer the children: Conservative Compassion Calculus

An attempt to offer sanctuary to 3,000 unaccompanied children was defeated yesterday in the House of Commons. Proposed as an amendment to the Immigration Bill by Labour, it was backed by everyone except the government. The main argument was, get this, that it was in the best interests of children not to help.
The minister said: "Our starting principle is that we must put the best interests of children first and avoid any policy that places children at additional risk or encourages them to place their lives in the hands of people traffickers and criminal gangs.
"In any response we need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, alone and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by attempting treacherous sea crossings to Europe."
The 'pull factor' argument, that if we take some children, more will be put at risk. That's the logic of taking refugees directly from camps around Syria, and there is a certain amount of truth to it. But only a bit, just imagine if we applied that logic to the rest of national life, the results could be spectacular:
 - Stop treating sports-related injuries in hospital. After all, it only encourages people to play sport, knowing that they'll be patched up by the NHS if they get a boot in the head. Result: fewer people playing sport, fewer sports related injuries, less pressure on the NHS. Sorted. 
 - Close down the stock market and commodities exchanges. We need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which traders see an advantage in speculation, alone and in the hands of performance-related bonuses, putting jobs and pensions at risk by attempting treacherous deals.
 - Close down all shops selling anything of any value. We need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children in ahead, alone and in the hands of criminal gangs, putting their welfare at risk by attempting to steal the Beyonce CD.
 - Scrap Street Pastors, who create a situation where people feel safer going to nightclubs. It would be better and more compassionate to let the clubbers lie in their own vomit and find their own way home at 3am after getting separated from their friends. That would discourage other people from getting drunk, falling over, or going out after dark. 
 - Rewrite the Good Samaritan. Helping people by the roadside only encourages people to use a known dangerous route, and encourages the criminals who prey on them. Leaving the odd corpse will discourage people from travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and puts the best interests of travellers first. In the new story, the priest and the Levite are the compassionate Conservatives, who walk past proudly and confidently, knowing that by leaving the man to suffer they are, in fact, doing the right thing. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Holy Spirit turns up on Britains Got Talent

"I feel elated, I felt so uplifted I couldn't get it out of me quick enough"
"I just feel on an incredible high, I just wish I could be up there with you clapping and singing"
"There literally no words to describe that feeling that you gave everyone in this room, it is so powerful, everything about you, everything you represent is my idea of heaven."

I've not caught the show yet, so only spotted this on social media a couple of days ago, but as well as the inspired choir, it was the judges responses that really made me sit up.

It's fascinating to hear a group of non-Christian judges trying to describe in their own words an experience of the Holy Spirit. You sense there is a bit more going on here than the standard hyperbole. And boy, what a choir, can't wait to see what they do next time.

'a state of perpetual fear'

Making even the smallest decisions can be agonising. It can affect not just the mind but also the body – I start to stumble when I walk, or become unable to walk in a straight line. I am more clumsy and accident-prone. In depression you become, in your head, two-dimensional – like a drawing rather than a living, breathing creature. You cannot conjure your actual personality, which you can remember only vaguely, in a theoretical sense. You live in, or close to, a state of perpetual fear, although you are not sure what it is you are afraid of. The writer William Styron called it a “brainstorm”, which is much more accurate than “unhappiness”

There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you. You feel acutely alone. It is commonly described as being like viewing the world through a sheet of plate glass; it would be more accurate to say a sheet of thick, semi-opaque ice.

Read the rest of Tim Lotts powerful account of what depression is like here. It's Depression Awareness Week - there's a good chance you'll be working with, queueing with, even living with someone with depression today. The idea is not to get everybody down, it's to bring depression into the open so it's understood, accepted, and not treated as weird. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gearing Up

One reason blogging is a bit quiet here is that we've a little project on. It's 160 years since the last major refit of our church, when Preston Plucknett was a village of 250-300 people. Long since swallowed up by Yeovil, the church now serves a parish of 15,500, with 5000 people coming through the doors each year. Seating for 90 and a regular congregation of 110-120 is an issue - a nice issue, but still an issue!

We were encouraged this week by this story from a church near Nottingham. Having played cricket a few years back for 'Stabbo' as it was 'affectionately' known, the headline 'why is everyone turning to God in Stapleford' got my attention. It turns out that 8 years ago they went through exactly what we're going through - a refit of the church and then the vicar leaving. Since then the church has grown by 40%. I hope that's not just migration from other churches who don't have underfloor heating and comfy chairs.

If you're the praying sort, please pray for us - we're most of the way to the £350,000 we need, but are waiting on some major grants. Thankyou!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Governments EU Leaflet - is that it?

The EU leaflet from the Government has arrived. Here's an easy guide


  • Economy: remaining guarantees full access to the 'Single Market', which makes selling easier and cheaper. 
  • Cost of living: increased export costs.
  • No other country has managed to access the Single Market from outside the EU without having to follow EU rules, pay into the EU, and accept EU workers. 
  • Membership gives police access to EU intelligence, DNA and fingerprint information (but we don't know if non-membership doesn't). 
  • Guarantees right to live, work or study abroad in the other 27 countries, plus employment rights. 


  • Leaving creates 'uncertainty and risk' for companies. No idea how much, or what's at risk. There's no indication of how much trade or investment a change would cost us. 
  • 'Pressure' on the value of the pound
  • 'No guarantee' of keeping customer benefits (cheaper mobile charges, air fares, and free healthcare)
  • 'Risk' of higher prices
  • 'Potential' economic discuprtion
  • 'a vote to leave could mean a decade or more of uncertainty'

And to be honest that's about it. On the 'facts' above, there's no information about what we wouldn't have if we weren't members of the EU (e.g. would police co-operation stop?).

For £9m I expected better. I'd like to be convinced that we should stay in the EU. But is this the full and best case for staying? Really? That there might be some unquantifiable economic loss to not being in the EU? This almost looks like it was written to bear out the 'Project Fear' jibes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The three things ticked on the back of the leaflet are 'protecting jobs' 'a stronger economy' 'providing security'. Lets have a little look at those:
Protecting Jobs: like when Britain voted against an anti-dumping law in the EU, which might have prevented the current crisis in the UK steel industry. Or when EU procurement laws prevent the government from buying British to support particular industries. Yes, that's working well.

A Stronger Economy: built on the backs of low wage foreign nationals coming to the UK to do the jobs we won't pay for, or don't train for. Workers from overseas prop up the NHS and care sectors, when many of them are needed much more in their own countries. And within the EU, the economic logic has led to the Euro, which is fine for the strong economies, and disastrous for Greece, which can't set interest rates or key aspects of economic policy because of Euro membership. History will thank Gordon Brown for keeping us out of the Euro with his constantly shape-shifting 'economic tests'. The jury is out on the EU and economic prosperity.

Providing Security: why should not being in the EU stop us sharing security information? We do it with the US. Having fewer people coming through the borders will make it easier to police and track people.

I worry when any argument is defined all or mostly in terms of economics. There are more important measures than money. I worry when a document like this does nothing to address the real concerns: why has the EU project resulted in bankrupt countries? What are the implications for the refugee crisis? I worry when we are fed speculation rather than facts: exactly how much more costly will it be to export to the EU, as a %? What EU laws will we keep on the statute book if we leave, and what will go? Will (for example) food companies and restaurants still be required to label for allergens (we have a coeliac in the family)? How much of a counterweight does the EU provide to the lobbying interests of the fuel and food sectors?

Maybe the problem is that the Conservatives are blinkered in their focus on the economics, whilst the strongest arguments for staying in are the ones better made by Labour. The working time directive and the social aspects of EU membership, the power of a collective of states to act against multinationals trying to ride roughshod over governments, the global leadership of the EU on climate change. These might be better selling points than 'we might be economically better off staying as we are, but we can't say how much, if at all'.

There's a reason CofE members are encouraged to pray for their governments and all in authority. There's a very real danger that the current government will preside over the disintegration of the EU, the UK, and the Conservative party.

I can't see this leaflet persuading any thoughtful person to vote 'Remain'.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Two Secrets

Another day, another statement from David Cameron, unveiling another 3% of the reality about his tax and investment arrangements. With more information promised, DC today admitted he could have handled things better. Being in public life is tough, you don't get to choose which bits of yourself or your life to present to the public. But the dribble of information, rather than a full and frank disclosure, looks like an attempt to conceal a secret, even if it isn't.

Justin Welby recently learnt, and today revealed, that his biological father is not the person he'd always thought it was. It's a deeply gracious statement, and I love the restatement of the core of his identity - I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes. God can turn a mistake into an Archbishop, and death into resurrection. 

I've no idea how you think straight, let alone come up with the right thing to say in public, when you and your family are being sifted in the national media. My response would probably be closer to David Camerons than Justin Welbys - though the ABC has had a bit longer to digest the news and work out what to say about it. Under pressure, many of us are hedgehogs - curl up into a ball and wait for it to go away. Like Justin Welby's mum, a remarkable woman, we need a power greater than ourselves to help us face reality and overcome our weaknesses.  

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Johns Gospel, Jamaican Style

Whilst looking for some visuals for Sundays bible reading, I stumbled across this. This seems an ideal way to recognise the two most important events of the last 2 weeks: the resurrection from the dead of Jesus of Nazareth, and the victory of the West Indies in the Twenty20 World Cup.

And in case you're wondering, this is no trendy modern innovation. The first mention of cricket in history is the day of Pentecost, when "Peter stood up with the 11 and boldly declared..." (Acts 2:14)