- Story – largely predictable, but somehow gripping.
- Characters – often stereotypical.
- Dialogue – functional, occasionally corny.
- Cinematography – utterly entrancing.
- 3D – the best yet, by far.
- Filmic references – Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Dances With Wolves, Alien, Apocalypse Now, Pocahontas, Lord of the Rings.
- Spirituality – Gaia/popularised Native American/broadly “Eastern”
- Message – pro environmentalism, pro-science, anti-big business, anti-industrial; anti-military.
- (Not so) Hidden Message – the myth of redemptive violence.
- Lasting impression – an utterly engrossing romp through a brilliantly imagined, stunningly rendered, completely believable exotic world.
- Recommendation – see it, don’t wait for the DVD, see it in the cinema, see it in 3D.
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Thursday, 17 December 2009
This is advanced notice of a module I'm helping to deliver here at Luther King House this summer.
We'll be looking at such areas as: spirituality and film; the turn from religion to spirituality; feminism and spirituality; spirituality and the novel; the state of contemporary charismatic spirituality.
The model is acutally part of the University of Manchester MA in Contextual Theology that we at The Partnership for Theological Education deliver but it is open for applications from people interested in the topic as a stand alone, non-assesed study opportunity. Would be suitable for, among others, ministers taking study leave.
To find out more call the number above.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
To find out what it was that got to me and to read some typically sensible comments from my friend John (himself a communications professional) go here.
Monday, 14 December 2009
Friday, 11 December 2009
It does however prompt a question: does anyone know of a book on preaching that is in fact written by a none preacher, someone whose expertise on sermons comes from listening to 'em rather than delivering 'em? I don't, do you?
As followers of a just and compassionate God we can recognise the justice and fairness of providing some legal protection for the reality of both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting relationships.
- “just” - check
- “compassionate” - check,
- “justice” - check,
- “fairness” - check,
- “some” - ???????
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Aged 6 or 7 - sitting on the stairs hearing my Dad singing The Holy City. It was the first time I realised how well he could sing.
Aged 9 or 10 - on the last night of my holiday in Bridlington sitting on my own on the sea front listening to an electric guitar solo screaming out of the open windows of the caravan park social club. Somehow made me feel strangely grown up.
Aged about 12 - listening to the Karelia Suite at my uncle’s. He was the rich uncle – they had a garden. The sound the of majestically romantic music while staring at the greenery out of the window proved to me that I did like “classical” music after all.
Aged about 20 - late at night hearing a busker playing Rafael Ravenscroft’s famous alto sax solo from Baker Street somewhere round a distant corner at Kings Cross underground station. I think this was when I truly fell in love with the sax.
Aged 35 – standing in Pastor Elise’s yard in Macenta, Guinee for an hour or more almost literally entranced by the his a cappella West African choir.
Aged 36 – that bit in Brassed Off when the band play Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.
Aged about 38 - hearing Lark Ascending for the first time in the parish church at Bolton Abbey while on retreat. It was as if God had pressed the pause button.
Aged 41 - me in the chapel practicing my new soprano saxophone (my first ever instrument) and actually getting it to sound good (to my ear anyway). Hardly great music, but it was the first time that I had made music myself; like discovering a new level of intimacy with an old friend.
Aged 43 - Billy Bragg at Greenbelt – the way one man with a guitar dominated the stage ten times more effectively than the manic, high-energy, multi-personnel Polyphonic Spree who had been on just before him.
Aged about 44 – a small ensemble form Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band backing Kate Rusby on Underneath The Stars at Wakefield opera house. Kate’s voice and the mellowest of French horn playing – I melted.
Aged 49 - coming across Christian Forshaw’s rendition of Nunc Dimitis while looking for music for my mum’s funeral. ‘Nuff said.
I'm tagging John Griffiths, Dick Davis, Andy Amoss and Sean Winter
What, in your opinion, are the major developments in the practice and theology of evangelism in past 50 years? What do you think are the most significant books on the subject written in recent times? What are the key issues with which students of evangelism in western culture ought to grapple?
What d’ya reckon?
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Apparently Epilepsy Action and The National Society for Epilepsy have said that it is not offensive. So all teachers, trainers, tutors and other flip-chart jockeys can breathe a sigh of relief, forget about thought-showers and just say what comes naturally.
Now, I swear I just heard some of you tittering under your breath there, or sighing and tutting, or, even worse, reaching for the address of the Daily Mail letters page. I’m not surprised. It has become the done thing to deride politically correct censorship of seemingly innocuous words. And I agree that sometimes the humourless attitudes of the p.c. militant tendency is irritating. Their eagerness publically to correct offenders seems to be set to go off with all the sensitivity of the finest of hair-triggered pistols.
But when I calm down and think about it, I have to conclude that they have a point. A big and important point. Truth is, words have power. How many of us have a had their lives blighted by things said to us years ago? Would anyone deny that words such as nigger or paki are politically explosive, socially devastating and profoundly disrespectful? (So much so that I’m curious to see if the editor will have to reach for his asterisk key.)
The power of words in this regard lies in the way they shape how we see people. And surely Christians above all others ought to be alert lest we find ourselves conceiving of fellow human beings in ways that diminish or dishonour them. This is the image of God we are talking about.
The plain, uncomfortable truth is that the way we use words has real consequences in the real world for real people. First we categorise, then we marginalise, then we diminish, then we dismiss and people bleed. Our use of words whether deliberate or unwitting can and does do damage to flesh and blood.
Consider for instance the widespread tendency to default to the word lady rather than woman. This never fails to grate. Most use the word without thinking. Those who do have a motive are usually seeking to express respect. But why on earth should it be disrespectful to use the word woman? What’s wrong with being a woman?
You may well object that there’s nothing wrong with being a lady either. I beg to differ. You see a lady is a certain type of woman. The word lady hangs out with other words such as genteel, delicate, refined. Its constant use predisposes us to see women in ways shaped by these terms and, by implication, to fail to see that it is equally womanly to be robust, vigorous and edgy.
And you don’t have to think too hard to realise that this is related to our denomination’s woeful, gospel-denying record on women in ministry.
My column on preaching a couple of weeks ago elicited a telling response from a friend, a friend who is a very capable minister, a fine preacher and a woman. She commented on how odd it seemed to her that throughout the piece I referred to my ideal preacher using feminine rather than masculine pronouns. She wasn’t complaining, just pointing out how unusual it sounded. And that’s the point. How can something become normal or commonplace if our use of language causes us to see it as odd, remarkable, exceptional?
To me this state of affairs is deeply irritating. To many women I know it is a cause of much pain and the prompt for many tears. We really ought to watch our language.
My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Head for the community's website to get your dose.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Homosexuality. It seems I just can't get away from it.
You might find this hard to believe but try to trust me when I tell you that in the past three days I have: heard form three ministers who are unsure if their own views are consistent with those of the BU; spoken to a colleague who recently resigned from a particular ministry because of disagreement over policy on employing homosexuals; heard that a friend of a friend has attempted suicide because of conflict between her sexual orientation and her very conservative upbringing; put together an agenda for a meeting which includes receiving the resignation of a volunteer because of disagreements about leadership and homosexuality; been approached by a church wondering how to handle the fact that one of their members has moved in with his boyfriend; had a conversation with someone wrestling with the issue of homosexuality and baptismal policy; heard tell of discussions at council about guidance offered to ministers with regard to civil partnerships.
All in three days. Honest.
And my point? Well, first of all, that this is an issue that is not about to go away, an issue that affects many people in our churches, an issue that we cannot and should not ignore. Repression of deep feelings and the suppression of genuinely held points of view is never a sign of good health. Nor can we take it for granted that there is anything like unanimity on this among Baptists. That is often the assumption, but I am not at all convinced.
Of course the past three days are hardly typical. But if this were not the huge issue that I believe it to be, it is unthinkable that it would have crossed my path quite so often in such a short space of time.
My second point is that given the size and extent of the issue, why are we not reflecting on it in our churches much more than we are? Of course it could be that I am wrong and up and down the country congregations are engaged in prayerful, pastorally sensitive, biblical and theological reflection on homosexuality. Could be, but I doubt it.
I understand that there has been a very disappointing take-up of the resource produced by the Baptist Union Human Sexuality Working Group to help churches engage in a constructive process of biblical and theological reflection on homosexuality. That’s a shame. I hear good things about it and I know that when it comes to this issue unless we give careful attention to how we discuss it we are asking for trouble.
Which brings me to my final point. Isn’t it a shame that Baptists of all people find it so hard to discuss sensitive issues? The gathering of the church community to reflect and pray before God in the light of the Word while seeking the guidance of the Spirit about issues of the day ought to be one our crowning glories. Too often the very opposite is the case. Our people stay away from church meetings in their droves, not least, it seems to me, because we have yet to learn how to do these things well, that is in ways that honour Christ. Tempers are easily lost, emotions run riot and power games abound.
It is high time that we Baptists committed ourselves once again to congregational discernment of the mind of Christ. Not just to the bare theological principle but to the important task of acquiring the skills to enable us to put the principle into practice in constructive ways. And this not least so that we can talk together about homosexuality.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Prompted by a post over at revmusings to reflect on my recent offering on hearing God in the noise of the urban. Here's what I saw in the looking glass:
I'm not agin revmusing's suggestion that attending to God in silence helps to discern the divine tones amidst the noise of life. However, I reckon the key is being intentional, deliberately attending to what God may be saying in any given situation - wherever.
I'm developing one or two thoughts on what a noisy urban retreat might look like. I fancy the idea of taking The Bible into the melee and reading it in all manner of different places to see how that affects what we notice (in the word and in the world). So, for instance chewing over a psalm on the top deck of a bus or running through Mark in the market place or Timothy on the train station concourse. Then there's the idea of spending half-time next time I'm at Old Trafford praying rather than queuing for a pie. (Hang on, make that praying while queuing for a pie). Or what about sitting on a bench in the precinct meditating on the shop window ddisplays?
I reckon these are all worthwhile practices for each of us to pursue. I wonder though if it's worth organising a communal retreat along these signs (in Manchester, obviously) so that we can gather after our reading/praying/meditating and share what we've heard. Would there be any takers?
Thursday, 12 November 2009
The one and only Dave Egerton Band are playing on December 12th at the LMRCA Social Club, Navigation Road, Altrincham right next to Navigation Road station. Tickets are an unbelievable £5.00. Yes £5.00! That’s a mere twenty pence per instrument! What’s more you can even pay on the door. You know you’d never forgive yourself if you miss it. Doors open at 7.00 pm.
What do you want from your preacher? Recently this has been on my mind. I’ve been writing a new course on preaching. I wonder, if you had the chance to help train the next generation of Free Church preachers what would you want to say to them?
Obviously, what we want is not the real point. What matters is that students become the kind of preacher that God has called them to be. Problem is though I’m writing the course and I do have my prejudices. We all do. Can’t help it. Normally the best thing to do with our prejudices is to come clean. So here goes, some of the things I look for in my preacher.
I want my preacher to be a minister of the word. She should remember that she is not called to be a guru. I’m not interested in her own clever ideas. I want her to help me to hear what the Bible has to say. There are lots of places where I can get people’s opinions, but when I listen to a sermon I want to hear the Word of God.
On the other hand I do hope my preacher will have the courage to be herself. Thank God the old pre-sermon prayer, “Lord reveal yourself and hide the preacher” has gone out of fashion. That’s not how God seems to like doing it. Preaching uses people and people have personalities. God is quite capable speaking through even the most colourful of characters. Think Jeremiah. Think Ezekiel. Here’s the point: when God called you to preach, God called YOU to preach, so don’t stop being you.
However, the last thing I want is a preacher who thinks that personality alone will do. I want my preacher to be thoughtful. More than that I, want her to think hard, long before she opens her mouth. I want her to take time to study the text at a depth that most of us can’t manage. I want to know that she’s been conversing with others who have wrestled with that text. It’s dead easy. Read a commentary. The problem with too many sermons is simple to diagnose: they are shallow. They are not worth listening to because they have nothing to say.
Assuming my preacher has something to say, the next thing I want is for her to say it to me . I’ve sat through too many sermons where the person in the pulpit has been more concerned to talk about their subject than to talk to their congregation. I don’t want to hang around while you run through your ideas. I want to be addressed. A sermon is not an essay. It should make all the difference in the world that we’ve turned up. Respond to us. Let’s interact. You’ll have to hang lose to your notes but if you are not up for that then you’ve no business preaching. Email me your words instead and I’ll read them at my leisure.
I want my preacher to put her heart into it. If it’s not plain for all to see that it matters to her, why should it matter to me?
I want my preacher to care about words. Like a chef cares about her knives and a carpenter her tools. I want her words to zing and sing and soothe. I want flair, imagination and creativity.
I want my preacher to remember that hers is not the last word. She’s not shutting down the conversation. If she’s lucky she might just start one. After all she’s only a preacher.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Thursday, 5 November 2009
The other Saturday I had a spiritual experience walking up Market Street. It was outside the Arndale centre, across from the baked potato vendor.
From the middle of nowhere came an adrenaline rush and a distinct Goddish whiff. Not this time a voice calling a new play for my life, more of an epiphany, a “Here I am” moment. And that “here” seemed to be the whole point of it. Here in the hustle, bustle and bump of shoppers; here in the noise of teenage girls screaming and giggling and a dirty-fingered version of Danny Boy played on an old busker’s tin whistle. Here between the conspiratorial knot of hooddies and the gloriously colourful African matriarch striding purposefully towards the number 86 bus. Bored-looking people were pressing promotional leaflets on reluctant rushers-by, HMV was graciously blessing us with Lilly Allen’s observations on life and God said, “Here I am. Right here.”
I must confess to being surprised. A bit like Ezekiel when God showed up by the Chebar Canal, rather than staying at home, safely tucked up in the temple. We’re not supposed to bump into God on city-centre shopping trips. We’re meant to head for the hills, retreat, go rural. Everyone knows that God prefers sheep to ghetto blasters and a misty dawn to neon light filtered through Manchester drizzle.
God speaks in silence, preferring not to shout above competing voices. God nudges you when you are still and empty-handed not while you are dashing about with an M and S shopping bag in one mit and a Gourmet Waffle in the other. God doesn’t like crowds, is allergic to noise, is happier in the countryside and just can’t get through to extroverts. That’s right isn’t it?
Well of course not. God is everywhere and clearly God loves the busy, energetic type as much as the introvert. Obviously. Or at least that’s how the theory goes. But check out the practice. Look where our retreat centres are – in a field, up a hill or by a babbling brook. Where are the backstreet poustinias? Who are the spiritual directors who hang out in Café Nero? Why cant’ I sign up for a noisy retreat?
I blame Wordsworth and his kind, you know, the Romantics who soft-focussed the wilderness and bequeathed us a pastoral idyll which the church has embraced as the spiritual equivalent of Escape to the Country. Although, come to think of it, wasn’t Wordsworth just as happy on Westminster Bridge as he was stomping over Borrowdale?
Not that I mind a bit of cloud-like lonely wandering myself from time to time. It’s just that God also insists on turning up in busy, concretey places. Like the moment I stepped out into a Time Square night after watching The Passion of the Christ and the whole place hummed with the love of God or like this Summer in the middle of the glam, the glitter and the tat of Lourdes when God said, something like, “I know this place is like a Skegness souvenir shop on Steroids, but just look at the faithful, hope-filled reaching out to me, look at the sheer colour of this churchy cross section of humanity - beautiful as oil in a puddle. I know this place is a bit RC for your taste, but I’m here, get used to it.”
Time, I think, for someone to develop spiritual guidance for city-dwellers. Time for more pricking up of the ears and glancing about for God in the urban. Time for people from Brecon to retreat to Bristol and for the Archers to go looking for God in Albert Square.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Revd Dr Kate Coleman
Former BUGB President (2006/07) Pastor of a Church Plant Director of “Next Leadership”
Saturday 21st November 2009 10.00am – 4.00pm
Wakefield Baptist Church Belle Isle Christian Centre Belle Isle Avenue Wakefield WF1 5JY
Booking Fee £15 per person (includes refreshments & lunch)
To book contact email@example.com
To celebrate the arrival of the fifth book in the ‘After Christendom’ series, Worship and Mission after Christendom by Alan and Eleanor Kreider, the Anabaptist Network has organised two seminars – one in the north of England, one in the south.
Speakers at these events will include authors of books already published and those who are currently writing further titles in the series. These seminars are an opportunity to engage with the authors, discuss issues raised in the earlier books, and have a preview of what is coming soon. There will also be a guest appearance – through the medium of DVD – by Alan and Eleanor Kreider themselves, introducing their new book.
Northern seminar Venue: Harehills Lane Baptist Church, Leeds Date: Saturday 9 January 2010 – 10.30-4.30 Speakers: Glen Marshall, Nigel Pimlott, Stuart Murray Williams
Southern seminar Venue: London Mennonite Centre, Highgate Date: Saturday 30 January 2010 – 10.30-4.30 Speakers: Lloyd Pietersen, Nigel Pimlott, Stuart Murray Williams
Cost: £20 (including lunch)
Copies of the books in the ‘After Christendom’ series, and others, will be available to purchase.
To book a place
Leeds: contact Ali Phelps: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0113 219 1933
London: contact Phyllis Shirk: email@example.com or 0845 450 0214
Friday, 23 October 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Just got back from another cracking evening at the RNCM. The Tord Gustavsen ensemble were truly superb.
Tore Brunborg on Tenor and Soprano saxophones ran the full gamut of his horns from a smoky subtone that was little more than musical breathing through the kind of plaintive keening that slices into you, to a beautiful, crystal-clear top register. Jarle Vespestad on drums was subtle and inventive, playing with the kind of musicality that goes way beyond mere rhythm. (I’m sure that Mats Eilertsen was also top notch but I must confess to finding it hard to get excited about the bass. Sorry.) The real hi-light though was Gustavsen on piano.
The elfin Norwegian seemed organically melded to his Steinway, by turns stabbing away a la Thelonius Monk and then deftly easing, coaxing, conjouring sublime beauty from his instrument. Melodic and mesmerising. Bleakly beautiful like a Scandinavian snowscape.
It’s testimony to just how good Gustavsen was that (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I think I would rather have the trio than the quartet, yes it would have been even better without the sax. Saxophones have a way of taking centre stage, demanding that you pay them attention. This meant that Gustavsen himself didn’t feature quite so prominently as I would have liked. That’s not a criticism, it’s just about he highest compliment I can pay. If you get the chance check him out for yourself.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Sabbatical: a huge, huge privilege, one of the truly brilliant things about being in ministry. Thank you Baptist Union. Thank you Northern Baptist College.
Writing a book: harder than I thought. Started well. Always was a good starter and a not so good finisher. Not given up yet though. No way.
Taking a break from Sunday worship services: an unplanned bit of the sabbatical. Kind of an experiment: how much of my ongoing journey of faith is simply down to momentum? Turns out the answer is not much. It’s good to be back.
A month on the road in France with my wife: further confirmation that marrying her thirty years ago was a smart move.
Visiting Lourdes: all my prejudices confirmed – kitsch central, tatsville, bad taste turned up to eleven. Yet, through it all, strangely moving and undoubtedly Godish.
Mum dying: rubbish, of course; the tragic completion of a long, slow dying. But it really did help knowing that this is what she wanted. I’m glad she was spared the indignity of the alternative. I’m also glad I managed to hold it together long enough to give the eulogy, a chance to do one last thing for someone who did so much for me.
Thirtieth wedding anniversary: see above. (Nice mother of pearl fountain pen too!)
Missing seeing England win the Ashes: a sore temptation once again to take out a sky subscription. Get thee behind me Murdoch.
Hearing The Tord Gustavsen Ensemble: see next post.
A weekend in the van at Pystill Rhaeadr: cracking place, beautiful, peaceful, dripping with God. Don’t tell anyone about it.
Returning to work: perfectly fine.
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
One of the delights of research, and indeed life, is finding someone else who agrees with you. At least it is for me. Especially when they express themselves well. And also when they carry a degree of authority. Not sure just how authoritative Bruce E. Shields is but he certainly fulfils the other two criteria.
I have become quite attached to the bee in my bonnet that is the importance of the Oral-Aural nature of the preaching event. That happens when a bee has been buzzing around your bonce for a long time. Clyde Fant set me off with his Preaching For Today back in the early 80’s and Bruce Shields has just had me shouting “Amen” as I type. Here’s a couple of snippets from his, From The Housetops: Preaching in the Early Church and Today
… we preachers … at the end of the twentieth century find ourselves in many cases conceiving of the sermon as a document, that is, as a set of written symbols on a page, which will then be read, with more or less directness, either off the page or from memory, to a silent audience. Thus we “finish” a sermon one day in a given week and deliver it to a congregation on Sunday. “Preparation and delivery,” seems to be a commodity-orientated way of thinking about preaching, and it is hard to imagine a first-century Christian thinking in these terms.
Perhaps the single biggest failure in the teaching of preaching is that young ministers are not fully impressed with the difference between textuality and orality. Shaped by mountains of books, called upon to write scores of papers, and graded largely by what they commit to the page, aspiring preachers train the eye but neglect the ear. Yet it is to the world of sound that they will go, plying their wares acoustically. The major moments of public ministry (the sermon, the funeral eulogy, the marriage ceremony) are all rhetorical [oratorical to be more accurate] moments.
If we try to hear the preacher producing the epistle as we study the text, then some of the passion in the original setting should begin to bleed through into our preaching. Our contemporary hearers are not, of course, first-century Roman believers, but that is no excuse for presenting cadavers instead of breathing organisms as sermons.
We preachers need to break out of our literate ways of thinking and prepare for effective communication in this borderland between the older culture of primary literacy and the coming culture of secondary orality.Preach it brother!
Monday, 8 June 2009
The North decided that it would like to send two racists to represent it in the wider world. Both Yorkshire, where I was born and brought up, and the North West, where I now live, have voted in BNP MEP’s.
How do I cope when people whom I love embrace something that I hate? This is the part of the world where the co-operative movement was born and flourished; it was here that The Labour Party (in the days when it was genuinely the party of the people) had its heartland. And now this.
Thursday, 4 June 2009
(on behalf of ‘Northern Baptist College Ltd’)
(a member of the ecumenical Partnership for Theological Education, based at Luther King House in Manchester)
intends to appoint a
Full-Time Tutor in Biblical Studies
with a major focus in EITHER Old or New Testament
(Whilst not an essential requirement for appointment to this post, there is potential for the successful applicant to play a significant role in the development and delivery of the ecumenical Partnership’s post-graduate programme.)
Requests for information can be made to:
Revd Dr Richard Kidd (Co-Principal)
(Completed applications must arrive by Monday 22nd June 2009, and interviews will be held on Wednesday 15th July 2009)
[Northern Baptist Learning Community has an Equal Opportunities Policy]
Sunday, 31 May 2009
way that some congregations dress up their building to add to the air of celebration as they mark The Church’s birthday. He didn’t approve of the practice.
The man made these observations from a pulpit box four feet above his congregation while wearing a get up comprising a white gown topped with a crimson cape featuring a front panel that can only be described as a riot of gothic green paisley. He was the preacher for the parish eucharist in St. David’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is a monumental building on the outskirts of an average sized village. It is truly imposing, ornate and no doubt eye-wateringly expensive to maintain.
The service tried to stay in keeping with its setting, it sought to be impressive. But no matter how poetic the liturgy, and no matter how accomplished the organ-playing, it’s hard to do impressive with a congregation of barely fifty, ninety percent of whom don’t seem to like singing. Shame really. If you attempt impressive, it’s best to pull it off, otherwise you end up looking silly and, even worse, pretentious.
Saturday, 16 May 2009
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Some thoughts on the writing process:
1. It is so tempting to act as if I’m supposed to turn each chapter into a PhD. First time in my life I’ve ever been remotely interested in patristics. Knowing how far to go and when to stop is a real challenge.
2. Finding the right voice is also a bit of a conundrum. The book’s meant to be based on academic standard research but it is not to be an academic text book. I really want to make it readable and I’ve already come up with loads of what seem to me to be nice turns of phrase, neat, catchy and down to earth - Gregory, Greg and Basil as a Byzantine boy band for bishops anyone? Now this would work well in a sermon or blog but …
3. Constantine and what he did to the church: seems to me both sides of the argument are wrong. He was neither an out and out angel nor an unspeakable demon. Yes of course he was hugely significant. Yes of course the lust for worldly power screwed up faithful witness, big time. But it really wasn’t all down to the emperor. So easy to hang it all on a particular individual. Easy, but wrong.
4. Which brings me back to finding the right approach. Not so much style this time, but argument. Let’s face it, it’s far easier to make a splash and get a reading if you have a clear point to make and if you make it with a flourish. You know, forget the nuances, just ram it home. On the other hand the evidence has a habit of getting in the way of a good point. But how to be subtle AND communicate with force? Is truth always the price we pay for effective rhetoric?
5. The best way to get something written is to avoid procrastination and resist distraction. So I’m going to stop.
Monday, 27 April 2009
It’s been a while. It took a line from a song. The song in question was Melody Gardot’s* Some Lessons.
Well I’m buckled up inside
Miracle that I’m alive
Do not think that I can survive
On bread and wine alone.
It’s not entirely clear what the song is about other than learning difficult lessons from a painful life experience that came close to being the singer’s undoing. However, it did spark off a thought in my head and this is the place for capturing and airing such thoughts.
Do not think I can survive
On bread and wine alone.
I suspect that Gardot is alluding to that line of Jesus and Moses, “… one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”. Hope so.
What occurred to me was that if we tinker with Gardot’s words just a little we get a rather neat way of expressing something that I reckon both Moses and Jesus would want to say to some of us today.
Some would do well to attend to the two Hebrew prophets, those, that is, who make the mistake of living as if the good stuff of the world - stuff like beer and sandwiches, sex, football and John Coltrane - is the sum of life, plunging with such relish into created goods that they forget the good creator. Others though ought to cock an ear in Gardot’s direction, those who live such religious lives that they end up leaving all sorts of Father-given, life-nourishing gifts on the shelf unopened. God-neglect is folly, world-neglect is such a shame.
"One does not live by bread alone."
"One does not live by bread and wine alone."
* Melody Gardot is one of a recent spate of jazz inflected female balladeers such as Madeline Peyroux, Duffy and especially, in Gardot’s case, Nora Jones.
Thursday, 9 April 2009
And here's the blurb to go with it
‘Girls Allowed’ Weekend Conference 13-15 November 2009
This is a great weekend designed specially for women leaders, ministers’ wives or younger girls or women who know God is calling them to leadership/pioneering situations.
We have a fantastic line-up of speakers who have exciting, inspiring stories to tell, including:
Baroness Caroline Cox, at one time deputy leader of the House of Lords; Kate Coleman, who made history when she became the first black female president of the Baptist Union, and others who will be part of the event. Lynn Swart has agreed to join us to lead worship.
There will be a choice of Seminar Streams:
￼Established Leaders: This stream will explore the joys, challenges and opportunities of being a woman in leadership and offer some support and encouragement for the journey. It’s aimed at Ministers, Youth Pastors, Pastoral workers, Deacons, Elders, and ministry leaders.
Emerging Leaders: This stream will look at exploring a call to leadership and the challenges and choices women face when they hear that call. It’s aimed at young women (16-25 year olds) who feel that God might be asking them to become leaders, or women who have done something else (career, family, caring) and who think that God is calling them to something new.
Espoused leaders!? (That’s ministers’ wives to you and me!) This stream will explore what it means to be married to ‘the minister’; how to balance the stresses of ministry and life; who you are as a person in your own right and what God’s calling is to you.
Main Sessions will run in the mornings so they’ll be loads of free time for cappuccinos and chatting, catching up with old friends and finding new ones! There’s a great swimming pool on site and squash courts for the energetic. Saturday evening will provide cafe style chill out with music and entertainment provided. There’ll be some Fairtrade stalls offering the opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping!
You can download the brochure, including the booking form, by clicking HERE
We realise you, dear reader, may be male! That means you know someone who should not only be aware of this weekend, but given real encouragement to be there. It may be your wife, a church leader, a full-time church worker’s wife, your church administrator, or a woman on whom you see God’s hand for leadership. Maybe your church could even consider sponsorship of some of these folk? We particularly want help to encourage the younger girls in your church, from 16 upwards, who obviously have God’s hand on their lives.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Friday, 27 March 2009
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Yes We Can! ... The Lost Art Of OratorySunday 5 April
The remarkable rise of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has been propelled as much by his exceptional skill as an orator and the emotive power of his words as by any other factor. On the podium, on television, on radio and on the internet, his speeches have inspired millions of Americans and captured the imagination of the world.
Alan Yentob travels to Washington for the inauguration ceremony and joins the crowds in thrall to Obama's words. He traces the awesome power of orators from the very inception of this art form – from Aristotle and Cicero to Lincoln and Kennedy to Churchill and Hitler. And what about George W Bush? From the silver-tongued to the tongue-tied, from the sublime to the ridiculous, this programme takes a fond and irreverent look at the art and history of political speech.
Among those offering their views on the world's finest orators – and what made them truly great – are Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof, Alistair Campbell, William Hague, Charlotte Higgins and Germaine Greer.
Monday, 23 March 2009
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Thursday, 19 March 2009
Saturday, 14 March 2009
The most important announcement since Gabriel did his thing?
BBC2 is going to be screening The Wire in full. Here's BBC2's own announcement which says that the actual dates of broadcast have yet to be released. The only clue I can glean suggests that the glory will begin w/c Mar 28th.
In case you've not yet heard the good news The Wire has been widely acclaimed as the best TV show ever. Should you watch it? If you want to be gripped, entertained, informed, challenged and humanised: Yes. If you think swearing and the depiction of drug-taking, violence and sex automatically robs a series of any worth no matter what outstanding qualities it has: Yes - because you really ought to change your mind about these things.
For my own take on the series go here.
Christian commentators in the States are reflecting on the implications of the American Religious Identification Survey which indicates that secularisation is biting deep. This is an excerpt from David Gushee writing for the Associated Baptist Press.
Seems to me that if American church leaders want to discover what the future might hold all they have to do is visit Britain.
Christians who bring faith-based moral convictions into the public square will win less and less. Some will respond by just shouting more loudly, thus turning more people away from Christ. Others will shift to a paradigm of faithful witness rather than cultural victory. Broad-based coalitions across religious and ideological lines will be a necessity.
The era in which cultural Christianity delivered bodies and dollars to churches and sustained thousands of often marginally effective Christian organizations is ending. The era in which Christians could afford to spend their time and money fighting with each other in the pews or the annual conventions or the newspapers is ending.
We will either deliver to people vital, meaningful, life-changing, Christ-following Christianity, or we will die of our own irrelevance.
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
The much vaunted resilience of religion in the USA raises significant questions about classic secularisation theory which asserts that as societies modernise they also secularise. Various modles have been put forward to explain differing patterns in North America and Western Europe. However, in recent years research findings have begun to indicate that stateside Chrstianity is not as resilient as was once thought. The latest report is the American Religious Idnetification Survey conducted in 2008.
Alan Hirsch offers the following summary:
1) Religion and Christianity are on the decline in the US;
2) Protestantism is doing worse than Catholicism due to Catholic immigrants;
3) Mormonism is keeping up with population growth, and Islam and New Age/Wicca are exceeding it;
4) Atheism, while still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise; and
5) “Spirituality,”–or non-organized belief in God–is still vibrant in the US.
For the full report go here.
The USA is not the same as Western Europe. Religion is more resilent there than here. It still poses questions for classic secularisation. But the long recognised decline in the American mainline denominations now seems to be affecting other expressions of Christianity as well.
Many in the past have taken comfort from trends across the pond looking to learn lessons for own struggles to resist decline. There is still some mileage in such an approach when applied with due care but we must not take false comfort. The first step to finding a new way forward is to look reality in the face. Whistling in the dark is no way to find an anthem to which we can march forward. It could well be that the challenge we face is even bigger than we thought.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Thanks to Ashley who alerted me to this from The Way Into The Far Country. Apparently it's George Elliot. I'd really like to know where it comes from. Can anyone help?
Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation…?
…in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation of sanctity.
Pleasant to the clerical flesh… is the arrival of Sunday! … He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honorable friend on the opposite side…. the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.
I get to spend a bit of time later on today at the Urban Expression Teams day. I won’t be able to stay for the discussion in the afternoon though which is a shame. The topic is an important one, The relationship between incarnational and proclamational mission.
Put simply incarnational church planting (Urban Expression is a church planting agency) begins when a small group of Christians lives and grows church in a particular place, taking shape as it attends to the gospel, engages with the wider community and actively seeks the kingdom. The old approach to planting was for one church to send twenty or more people to start a service in an under-churched area and then arrange evangelistic events and activities.
The incarnational approach is a definite improvement. However, incarnational planters run the risk of repeating a mistake made so often by the church throughout history and especially in recent years. We see weaknesses in an established way of doing church, initiate change and in the process utterly overreact and neglect real strengths in the old approach. So for instance, the charismatic movement’s stress on experience led to a regrettable disdain for learning and serious theology; the early/mid 20C reaction against the Social Gospel led to an unbiblical exclusion of social and political action form it’s understanding and practice of mission. The examples are many.
My point is this: there is no reason on God’s earth why an incarnational approach to mission and church planting should neglect a deliberate, intentional and strategic approach to proclamation.
Evangelism is at heart about communicating good news, expounding the gospel, making it public, rendering it manifest, causing it to become apparent and present. I like to think of it as goodnewsing. I also find it helpful to remember that it’s about doing, saying and being. Now, not all of these dimensions have the communication of good news as a deliberate intent, at the forefront of our attention. Evangelism suffers when we reify it, turning it into nothing more than a thing that we do and distinguish it from the doing saying and being of following Christ. (See this from Steve Holmes for some wise words to this effect.)
We evangelise when the stuff we do in pursuit of peace and justice such as providing shelter for the homeless or campaigning against poverty, gives expression to the way of Christ but our attention is not directed to getting across a message but to the needs of the homeless and the poor. We evangelise when the way we are bespeaks Christ, when our churches are hospitable honouring the least and including the other. Our primary intent here is not an act of communication but the living of a Christ-faithful life. We evangelise too when we speak of our faith and the one in whom that faith is placed, when we explain to friends why we pray, when we offer a Christ-informed perspective to colleagues conversing about an event in the news. Even here it is not is not that we think, “OK, now I am going to evangelise.” Rather, because we live as Christians we also speak as Christians. All good incarnational stuff.
However, none of this is to say that this richer, more integrated, more natural understanding of evangelism has to exclude deliberate, intentional, planned goodnewsing when our primary purpose is indeed to get a message across. As long as such activities are appropriate to the their setting and faithful to the gospel, refusing imposition and resisting distortion for the sake of “success” then they absolutely have a place. Why not?
Of course the sine qua non of goodnewsing is that whether it be our primary concern or a gracious by product given as we pursue other priorities, whether it is doing, being or saying it has to arise from lives given over to knowing and following Christ. Otherwise our doing is so much busyness, our saying mere words and our being an empty shell.
Thursday, 5 March 2009
This via Ruth Gledhill
A priest in the US sent me this yesterday, which throws a little light on the issue.
There were three good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial
But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God
But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1.. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3... He used olive oil
But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion
But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit
But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.
But the most compelling evidence of all - three proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Thursday, 26 February 2009
With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here.
One of the hazards of ministry is the risk of being misunderstood. Ask any preacher. There are of course things one can do to reduce the risk. But sometimes you just have to go for it. So here goes.
The main secret of church growth is to want to grow and then to do something about it. I prescribe a good, old fashioned dose of evangelical activism.
Of course it’s not quite that simple. If it were I’d be out of a job. I spend a lot of time and energy helping students to identify cultural trends and to consider how to respond. We look at a whole range of approaches to evangelism and church growth from missionary congregations to personal faith sharing; from fresh expressions to healthy church growth thinking. We ask all kinds of important theological questions about such things as the relationship between our mission and God’s mission or the place of evangelism in our pursuit of the kingdom.
It’s encouraging that reflection on evangelism and other forms of mission is becoming more nuanced, theologically more robust. But it remains true that the three most important steps for those who would like to see growth are to want to grow, to plan to grow and then to do something about it.
Not that these things alone are enough. Church growth theory has always stressed that there are factors way beyond how a local congregation goes about things which have a huge influence on how likely they are to see an increase in numbers. It could well be, for instance, that the arrest of numerical decline detected in both the 2005 English Churches Census and the recent figures published by TEAR Fund is largely down to the culture-wide resurgence of interest in spirituality and the re-entry of religion onto the public stage since 9/11 and 7/7. Not a lot your local church can do about such things.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t take a census or a survey to tell you that churches that try to grow tend grow faster than those who aren’t interested in growth or won’t work at it. We need to be intentional and active.
Activism however has recently fallen out of favour. You must know the old joke about the patron saint of evangelicals being St. Vitus. Much of the criticism is indeed neccessary. Mere busyness is soul destroying. Prayerless reliance on human effort is faithless. We ought not to live as if we believe in justification by results. On the other hand it would be a gross denial of our evangelical heritage and a huge loss to the Church universal if we were to swap activism for quietism.
I wouldn’t want to go as far as the remark attributed to 19C evangelist Dwight Moody who respond to a critic by telling her that he preferred his method of doing evangelism to her method of not doing it. I am not commending mere activism or heedless hard work. What’s called for is faithful, imaginative engagement.
Nor do I want to simplify to the point simplicity. “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, straightforward …. and wrong!” Amen. But neither do I want to see the church paralysed by complexity or bewildered into impotence.
We might only understand in part but that doesn’t mean we know nothing. We might not have it within our power to transform our own fortunes but that doesn’t mean we can do nothing. So let’s hear it for activism. Gospel faithful activism? Theologically savvy activism? Prayerfully reflective activism? Spirit inspired activism? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! But for all that, still activism.
Monday, 23 February 2009
Said I'd pass this on.
Cliff College offers undergraduate and postgraduate theology degrees, focused on evangelism in contemporary culture, emerging church, leadership and renewal, biblical theology, children’s and youth ministry. Our courses are validated by the University of Manchester and our student body is both diverse and international.
Postgraduate Tutor. To be part of a team teaching at postgraduate level in the general area of mission. To offer leadership to the taught MA in Mission programme. To supervise research students. Ability to teach in one or more of the following areas: leadership, renewal, emerging church, youth and children’s ministry.
You will have a PhD in theology or related area, or near to completion. You can be lay or ordained. For a ministerial appointment (in the Methodist Church or another denomination in communion with the Methodist Church), the Methodist stipend and allowances will apply. A lay appointment will be in the region of £33,000.
The Next Steps. To find out more about the College go to www.cliffcollege.ac.uk. For information on the post and an application form contact Helen Phipps on 01246 584216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications must be received by 19 March and interviews take place at the College on 27 March.
Cliff College, Calver, Hope Valley, Derbyshire S32 3XG
Sunday, 22 February 2009
The headline act, The Billy Cobham Band, were fantastic. Hadn’t come across Billy Cobham before even though he’s been around since the 60’s, but then, Weather Report aside, I’m not a huge fan of the fusion/funk end of the Jazz spectrum. I confess to being a bit disappointed when I noticed that the line up didn’t include a sax and more than a little worried when I noticed it did include a steel pan. So much for my prejudices. Junior Gill was superb and fitted in seamlessly.
The band as whole were tighter than whatever it is ducks themselves use as a simile for being tight. And talk about presence! Like a nuclear submarine deep below the polar ice-cap: thrumming with energy and effortlessly cool at the same time. This was live music as it’s surely supposed to be, an event, of the moment, a happening.
I’m not sure I’ll be buying any Billy Cobham albums. There’s other stuff I’d rather give my time and money to. But as a live set this will take some beating. It’s good to go out for a night and to walk back excited by what you’ve just heard.
Full line up: Billy Cobham – drums; Jean-Marie Ecay – guitar; Fifi Chayeb – bass; Junior Gill - steel pan; Christophe Cravero – keyboards and violin(!); Marco Lobo – percussions.
Here's a clip of Billy doing his stuff back in 1987.