Friday, March 31, 2006

A Cluster Of Points


  • Don't speak too loudly, but spring might have sprung. We've stopped off at the park on the way home from school several times this week, and I've hung washing outside to dry for the past two days in a row...
  • I had my first team meeting last night, my first opportunity to meet the people I'll be working with from Monday...I'm really looking forward to starting : )
  • I've been asked to write a book review, which I'm more than happy to do in principle...but my response to a book is kinda intuitive - and I'm not entirely sure what an intuitive book review might look like. I guess I'll find out soon enough!
  • And, hot on the heels of reading Steve Taylor's the out of bounds church?, today I got a copy of Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger's Emerging Churches. This book is "Quite simply the best book yet on the emerging church" - not only because tallskinnykiwi ia quoted as saying so on the back cover, but also because the research that went into it included extensive conversations with over 50 practitioners over a five-year period. The result is a scholarly benchmark, that will help those who would identify themselves as seeking to create Christian community in postmodern cultures to reflect on their own practice; and help those who would identify themselves as being part of the 'mainstream' church in the US or UK to understand and appreciate what 'emerging' churches are, and why they are needed - and just maybe help each to realise why the 'mainstream' church and the 'emerging' church need each other...I'd love to see it on the Recommended Reading list for everyone involved in the training of Christian leaders in the UK today (but I doubt such a list exists).
  • Susannah finished her first term at school today, a little milestone along our family journey...


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Play

More images inspired by Steve Taylor's book, the out of bounds church?













[The picture quality is poor, due to lack of natural light. I may even re-take the whole lot. But, I like to do things when I think of them...]

Playing Pieces


After Postcard 2, the out of bounds church?, Steve Taylor...

Youth-work Strategies, And Youth Tactics

There’s an interesting discussion going on at Hamo’s blog, about the effectiveness or otherwise of church youth-work. It strikes me as being a prime example of the relationship between ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’ that Steve Taylor writes about in the out of bounds church? and which I posted about recently. In this particular case, churches have chosen the strategy of running youth groups – often involving the strategy of employing a Youth Worker [to give an indication of how much this strategy has been invested-in, in many traditional denominational churches the youth worker is the only salaried non-ordained staff member] – as a means of evangelism…and the local youth have adopted the tactic of using the group as a social activity, leaving – for better social opportunities – as soon as they pass their driving test.

Much of the discussion generated by Hamo’s original post seems to revolve around the idea of needing to find [a] more effective youth-work stategy[/ies], with contributors admitting that they don’t have a better strategy, while expressing an intuitive search towards one. Hanging over the conversation is also the possibility that subversive youth tactics present a problem – not that they are necessarily bad in-and-of-themselves, but that they present a problem to the church, as opposed to an opportunity.

The language of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ is incredibly insightful in describing how the relationship between two groups – one holding the [official] power; one without [official] power – is negotiated. It is not just about a struggle for dominance, but an interaction that allows the power-less group to own their place in the relationship – like allowing a teenager to decorate their own room, within certain boundaries. But, the language of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ is also very much associated with power struggles: the guerrilla tactics of the French Resistance against the German occupiers during WWII; Eta and the IRA, against the Spanish and British governments; al Quaeda against the West and the War on Terrorism…or consider sport: the top-seeded tennis player or top rugby or football team seeks to repeat a successful strategy of dominating the match; the under-dog opponents seek to employ a tactic of disrupting the flow of the strategy, and taking as many chances as comes their way as a result. This confrontational construction – where ‘strategy’ is Good and ‘tactics’ are Bad; or vice versa, depending on your perspective – is accurate, but only part of the picture. Both ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’ are essential in the construction of a healthy community – or society, or culture. The alternative is either dictatorship [strategy without tactics] or civil war [tactics without strategy]. [But it is worth being aware that each ‘side’ is likely to view the other with at least a degree of suspicion…]

That means that churches do need to invest in strategies for engaging with young people [or anyone else]…but:
…It probably isn’t worth investing too heavily in the details – whatever the strategy, keep it light-weight and low-maintenance;
…It is worth investing in strategies that welcome the inevitable tactical subversion – don’t be too precious, or non-negotiable, about your strategy;
…It is worth investing in strategies that deliberately birth the new thing God is doing, rather than seek to keep a previous thing he did going [sometimes enabling the new life to survive and keeping a dying life alive both require life-support machines; using metaphorical life-support machines is not wrong per se, but it might be worth the church’s while to invest more in metaphorical SCIBUs than in metaphorical ICUs]. On birthing churches, see Steve Taylor’s the out of bounds church? Postcard 3.

I wonder what sort of youth-work might emerge that views the tactics teenagers employ to subvert our church strategies as opportunities to invest in the next generation, rather than problems facing those who want to invest in them…


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Day Tripper No. 2

Today I had to go to Manchester. I don't go there very often; and I don't like going there, though I can't say why. I'm quite comfortable travelling around the world, with or without my family; but as me to cross the Pennines for one day without them, and I feel twitchy from the moment the train pulls out of the station in Sheffield until the moment I get off the return train...Like I said, I don't know why: I've not had any particularly bad experiences there; I have no reason to be especially prejudiced about the city (other than - along with half the population of the world - not liking Manchester United); I have friends from there...Maybe I should get some prayer ministry!

Anyway, it was good to get back to Sheffield.

On the bus from town up to Crookes, I tried - without success - to offer my seat to three other passengers who got on after me. Two other men, both younger than me, tried to do the same thing, at least once each. Of the five offers, only one was accepted.

Chivalry is dead. Not because young men today are not prepared to prefer others before themselves; but because women and the elderly are not prepared to surrender - and be seen to surrender - their Independence. Personally, I prefer inter-dependence. But then, maybe I'm a sexist, ageist young male...

Day Tripper No. 1

Yesterday I went back to school, as a parent helper on my daughter's class trip to a local farm. Once I start my new job, I'm seriously considering volunteering in school on a regular basis, and this was a great opportunity to try it out. Another mum from church came too. I thought it might be a chance to get to know Susannah's teachers (she has one on Mon-Wed, and another Thurs-Fri; both were due to be on the trip). But as it turned out, both were off sick. (If they weren't such good teachers, I'd be suspicious - after all, it was an outdoor activity on a rainy day!) And so, at short notice, it became an opportunity to get to know the head teacher - who was standing-in - a little.

Despite the rain, we all survived!

Later on, I was reflecting on the trip. When we entered the building that housed the pigs, and again when we entered the building that housed the poultry, we had to walk through a mat soaked in disinfectant. It is a simple and matter-of-fact precaution; and, with it in place, it is fine to walk all around the farm without fear of contamination, or contaminating. It made me think about Jesus washing his disciples' feet [John 13:1-17]. At first, Simon won't let him; then, when Jesus tells him, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." he wants Jesus to wash "...not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" But Jesus answered, "a person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean..."

So often, it seems to me, Christians worry about being contaminated by the world - and even more so about their children being contaminated by the world. Jesus seems very matter-of-fact about dealing with such potential contamination; but he seems clear that our feet getting dirty is not a fundamental problem - not one that needs to be avoided, let alone avoided at all costs.

We get bombarded with all kinds of stuff - a lot of sexual images; material (money; power) images - just like the first Christians were bombarded with images - sexual images; images of the Ceasar-as-god and (therefore) patron/provider...Like Jesus in the desert, we are bombarded with suggestions, tempting us to take our own gratification into our own hands. And these things are not a fundamental problem; just - desert - dust on our feet.

We often come across the feet-washing image in churches; sometimes we even actually wash each other's feet, as a physical symbol of a spiritual cleansing. The focus tends to be on getting ourselves clean; being made right, again, with God and with each other; restoring relationships with one another as we serve each other. But it seems to me that this misses the main thrust of Jesus' point, which is that we have already been made clean, in a fundamental sense.

I realise that I am a work-of-God-in-progress; that there is a being-done and a not-yet-done dimension to redemption and sanctification; that I will not be made fully whole in this life. But, in a fundamental sense, I have been redeemed; I have been washed clean.

I guess the real issue is whether we believe that we are fundamentally fallen - broken, damaged - people, who happen to have been redeemed: in which case, we need to fear contamination, because we will be drawn to our most fundamental nature...or whether we believe that we are fundamentally redeemed - that yes, we are fallen/broken/damaged; but that our having been redeemed goes deeper than these things: in which case, we just need to deal with the dust.

I believe that at the most fundamental level I am redeemed; restored into relationship with God and his creation. That is what the Father created me for; that is what the Son lay down his life to acheive; and that is the condition the Holy Spirit keeps me in, as well as guaranteeing the being-done and not-yet-done dimensions.

What might this mean for our practices as church? Perhaps we need to develop a new symbol, or de/re-construct the ancient one, that acknowledges matter-of-fact-ly that our feet get covered in dust as we walk through the world...but that celebrates the fact that we have already been made clean; celebrates the fact that we have already been brought-into relationship with each other. Because I don't wear open sandals, I'm not sure I need my bare feet washed; maybe we might brush clean each other's shoes? The shoe-shine is an image - and a subservient one - of a now-passed age. Perhaps someone ought to resurrect it?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mothers Day Un-masked

...and the foster mum...and the teenage mum...and the alcoholic mum...and...and...and...


Jesus asked, "Which of all these different mothers does the church love more than the others?"

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mothers Day Masquerade

It was Mothers Day, and the church was packed with women:

There, on the front row, sat the minister’s wife, with her three boys – 8, 6, and 4. They were a handful…and every time she entered the church, she felt the pressure to turn out perfect little angels; sensed the disapproval with every boisterous misdemeanour. Her husband didn’t understand; called her ridiculous; accused her of being over-sensitive…

A few rows further back sat an older woman, the picture of respectability. No one knew of the baby girl, born out of wedlock, a life-time ago, whom she had given away, put up for adoption (not even – especially not – her husband of these past 26 years). Back then, society might have already become more relaxed about such things; but her own parents had not. She had not knowingly seen her daughter since the day she was born; but she could not look at a woman in her early thirties without wondering whether this could, just possibly, be…or enjoy her friends’ grand-children without wondering whether she, too, was a grandma…

Next to her, a younger woman: an adopted child, she had never known her birth mother, and had no desire to meet her now. She also had no intention of bringing an unwanted child into the world, thank you very much. No one knew that she had had her first pregnancy terminated two years ago; or that she planned to have a second abortion this coming Tuesday. She would go out of town – on a “business trip” – to make absolutely sure things stayed that way…

Across the room, two full-time-working mums: one who would not have it any other way – she was good at her job, and why the hell should she give it up just because they had a family now? No one dared suggest her husband should put his career on hold…the other mum, juggling her responsibilities at work and home, weighed down by a hefty burden of guilt that she was failing her young family by not being there 24-7…

And behind them, the Stay-at-Home mum, secure – to the point of being smug? – in the knowledge that she was fulfilling her role as wife and mother, home-maker…

There was the woman who had had a miscarriage just months earlier; who should be preparing her home for the new arrival by now; the occasion rubbing salt into her raw wound, making her heart bleed all over again…And the woman who had had multiple miscarriages; who (genuinely…on her good days) rejoiced with every pregnant friend; and yet, at the same time, somewhere inside, resented every baby that she saw…And the woman who so desperately wanted a child that it shaped her every moment: who would be woken at night by the sound of her baby crying, and be out of bed before she remembered that she had no baby – nor a husband to give her a baby, for her need was so great it scared away every man who knew her – and who now literally heard the ticking of her biological clock inside her head, as persistent as tinnitus…And the woman who had lost her own mother just this past autumn; facing her first Mothers Day without mum – missing not only a parent, but a close friend…And the woman whose husband had left her, and their kids, for a newer, more aerodynamic model he had met at work; who felt overwhelmed at times; and unappreciated most of the time…And the young mum with breast cancer, who had only one thought through the service: will I even be here next Mothers Day?...



Jesus asked, “Which of these mothers does God love more than the others?”


[Note: These examples are representative of women who will be familiar to many; they are not intended to be taken as referring to specific individuals.]

Only 275 Shopping Days Till Christmas

Or, nine calendar months...

Today – 25th March, nine months before Christmas Day – is the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the event when Mary was told that she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. You can read about it in Luke 1:26-56, The Bible.


God is moving into the neighbourhood.
And he chooses to do so through a human being:

How will it happen?
In the midst of the every-day, and the ordinary…

How will it be possible?
Through God’s Spirit, empowering flesh and blood…

How will the Christ-bearer respond?
With fear, and questioning, for sure; but by making themselves available to serve – despite the fear and questions – and by opening themselves to the impossible made possible…

How will the Christ-bearer be responded to?
With misunderstanding, mistrust, misrepresentation, rejection – each growing as the presence of Jesus becomes increasingly visible. But also with favour, extravagant welcome, blessing; and as an inspiration for those who will come after them…

How will the neighbourhood be transformed?
Mercy will be extended to those who have been denied mercy…Justice will be done for those who have been denied justice – and for those who have denied justice to others…Those who think they are something will be shown to be of little consequence; and those who think they are of little consequence will be given prominence and influence within the community…The hungry will have their hunger met; and those who have met their own hunger while others go hungry will be turned away – for those pushed to the margins will be the centre, and those at the centre will be marginalised…Position will be nothing; Celebrity will count for nothing; being one of the Beautiful People will be worth nothing; and the oppression these things exercise over the nation will be broken…But this Turning Society Upside Down will happen one person at a time…


The Feast of the Annunciation does not only commemorate a unique event in the past; it also opens us up to the possibility that Jesus will be made manifest today, in our neighbourhood, through us…
…How will you celebrate the Feast?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Illuminations



"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..."
Philippians 2:14, 15



It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky
It's no secret that our world is in darkness tonight
They say the sun is sometimes eclipsed by a moon
Y'know I don't see you when she walks in the room

...

It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief

Love, we shine like a
Burning star
We're fallin' from
The sky...tonight

U2, 'The Fly' [Achtung Baby, 1991]

Raindrops





Thursday, March 23, 2006

Good News

I heard back from my recent job interview this evening...and they've offered me the position!

I don't have a start date yet - there are a few details to sort out first - but it should be in the near future. And I'm very pleased.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Day's End


Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

From An Order for Night Prayer (Compline), Common Worship.

Happiness Is...


Yesterday afternoon my daughter found a length of wool, dark green in colour, about 3-4 inches long. This morning, she wanted to take it to school (she was so pleased with it, she even wants to take it for Show And Tell on Monday). She showed it off to a boy in the year above, his mum and little sister, at the End of the Road. She showed it off to a boy in her class and his dad, at the Lollipop Lady. She showed it off to another boy in her class and his grandad, at the Coat Pegs. She showed it off to a boy in her class - a boy clutching a large, shiny, red-and-gold, plastic action-figure in his hand - just inside the Classroom Door. And as I left her, she was intent on showing it off to her teacher...

...I'm not sure what her friends made of the length of wool - or of her excitement at it! I'm not exactly sure what I make of it, either. I shake my head in wonder at the sheer volume of pleasure she got from such a little thing; and smile...Good on you, my girl.


[P.S. I know the photo is of thread, not wool. But I like to include pictures whenever I can, and I don't have one of any wool; so - like my girl - I'm using what is to hand.]

Monday, March 20, 2006

[Go With The] Flow

More thoughts on the architecture of community…

One of the key roles of the architect is to give a lead to the flow of people through a space, or series of connected spaces - which is not really the same as attempting to control how they use the space/s; for, to the extent that control happens, a much wider cultural grid is responsible. Rather than controlling users, it is about giving clues and cues to enable them to navigate the space for themselves.

The flow through a series of spaces tends to move us from outside to inside (and back again), and from public to private space (and back again). At each step, clues (windows into another space; fixtures and furniture) and cues (doors; corridors; light, and colour) enable the psychological and social transition from one space to another. This may begin with the transition from general space (the street) to specific space (steps to the entrance of an art gallery; the car-park of a stadium; the garden, or driveway, of a private home; the ginnel in a row of terraces). Next we navigate the transition from outside to inside: a door – automatic or revolving glass doors, inviting the general public into a business or cultural space; closed, locked, restricting access to a select group, determined by ownership or invitation – leads into a reception area, foyer, or hallway; driveway leads into double-garage, into utility room, into house (or, directly onto the living room in The Simpsons). This thresh-hold can be deconstructed (cafĂ© tables encroach on the pavement; a water-feature straddles forecourt and vestibule); but this is done to ease, rather than undermine, the transitional flow.

Consider a space for living in. The flow might take you through:
Transitional spaces: garage, porch, hall, stairs, conservatory (linking the house to a private garden space); some simply for passing-through; others taking-on their own social dimension…
Social spaces: living/dining rooms, used for entertaining visitors, in different or possibly combined ways, including viewing and eating; possibly other rooms of similar use but more private (snug, den)…
Creative spaces: kitchen, studio, library; may connect to social spaces (kitchen-dining); a kitchen may be private and/or purely functional, or the heart of social dynamics within the building…
Purifying spaces: bathrooms, toilets, rest-rooms; private spaces for intimate cleansing functions/rituals; may be public-access or restricted access; may well be used with less volume/frequency than other spaces, but remains essential nonetheless…
Re-creative spaces: bedrooms, private spaces for intimate activities; sleeping, whether with another or alone, is a vulnerable activity – and, conversely, a healing/restoring activity; both sexual intercourse and dreaming are intimate, potentially creative, activities…

Not every living space includes all of these rooms; while others not listed (this is not an exhaustive or even idealised list) may be included. However, community itself is made up of combinations of transitional/social/creative/purifying/re-creative spaces. (Note that while public buildings have a different dynamic to private ones, they still exhibit their own transitional/social/creative/purifying/re-creative spaces.) Moreover, these spaces occupy part of a spectrum of outside-inside, and public-private, movement. With both physical living spaces and community-as-living-space, the particular configuration of these component spaces speaks volumes about the social context in which they were designed and built…

So:
To what extent is church about creating alternative community? And, to that extent, what spaces are present, and how are they connected? What clues and cues are present, to help people navigate the space? What spaces are absent or poorly used? Why, and, what might be done?

And:

To what extent is church about pointing to God within the structures of the wider community in which we find ourselves – and, in so doing, playing a role in the transformation of those communities? To that extent, what spaces are present, and how are they connected? What clues and cues are present, or can be proposed, to help people navigate the space? What spaces are absent or poorly used? Why, and, what might be done?

Outer Space[s]

Some thoughts on the architecture of community:


6. The window seat: because sometimes people need to be lifted above the clouds of their day-to-day experience...



5. The departure lounge: because sometimes people need to engage with other communities, with neutral space providing the bridge...

4. The dry-stone wall: because sometimes people need a place to belong where their unique size and shape - including their rough edges - are valued; and, placed alongside other irregular people with rough edges of their own, combine to make something that is practical, durable, and beautiful...



3. The jetty: because sometimes people need space to be on their own - removed - yet still connected-to community...


2. The phone wire: because sometimes people need relational engagement with others, without the expectation of physical proximity...


1. The park bench: because sometimes people need physical proximity with others, without the expectation of relational engagement...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Home Crowd Advantage

The 2006 RBS 6 Nations Championship concludes today. In the 6 Nations, each side plays against the other five, alternating year-on-year between two/three home matches, and three/two away. It has been an incredibly close tournament this year, with four teams in with a (mathematical) chance of coming top of the table.

Of the 12 games played so far this year, 10 have been won by the home side (and three of the four teams who can still come top are playing away from home today). So, for example, Scotland has beaten pre-season favourites France and England at Murrayfield; and lost to Wales and Ireland - on paper not as strong as France and England - when away from home. 10-out-of-12 would suggest that the advantage of playing in front of your home crowd makes a massive difference.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great stadium of supporters, let us throw off every tackle that hinders and the rucks that so easily entangle, and let us play with perserverance the game marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Hebrews 12:1-3, paraphrased

Friday, March 17, 2006

You Are What You Wear

You are what you wear. Few things – tattoos, body piercing – get closer to us than our clothes, as a visible statement of identity: who we are. This is not a recent phenomenon: clothing has always identified our family connections; our line of work; our relative position in society. All that has changed is that – as in all times of globalisation throughout history – our choices are no longer tied to one family; one trade, or business, or profession; one class or caste or rank in society. That is not to say that we have unconstrained freedom of choice; just that our choices are more likely to be constrained by more global politics and/or economics.

This fundamental link between who we are and what we wear might explain why the Bible ties the two together. God is described as a tailor and/or patron providing new clothes in Genesis 3 (cocking a snoot at the Politically Correct brigade, God’s first collection is made of leather and fur), Psalm 30, Zechariah 3, Matthew 6 and Luke 12, Luke 15, and Revelation 3. The context of these passages ties this action to a restoration of broken relationships (at least partial, and pointing to a full restoration to come); the conferring of righteousness (being considered right before God); and the meeting of our material needs by God. Clothes are, therefore, outward symbols of God as our Restorer, our Righteousness, and our Provider.

Moreover, we are encouraged to clothe ourselves with certain divine attributes: glory, splendour, honour, majesty, and strength (Job 40; Psalm 45; Isaiah 52); compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3); humility, again (1 Peter 5); and even to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13). Then there are the accessories: crowns of beauty; garments of joy, and praise; turbans (Psalm 30; Isaiah 61; Zechariah 3; Revelation 4). Not to mention the Lord Of The Rings / Narnia battle costume (Ephesians 6)…

Not that long ago it was the tradition, drawing on some of these ideas, to give new clothes at Easter. Few people could afford to buy clothes throughout the year; by doing so at Easter, the clothes you wore took on a symbolic meaning: every time you got dressed, you put on the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Not that long ago – within the memory of the older residents of Sheffield; within the folk-memory of the city - and yet, in observance, a tradition that has been lost, within three generations.

This week Jo suggested we revive the tradition; and institute a new family tradition in the process. And so today we went out and bought new clothes for our children: clothes that will be put away until Easter Day, and then brought out as part of our celebrations.

St Patrick's Day

Today is St Patrick's Day, the feast of Patrick, missionary to and patron saint of Ireland. The traditional celebrations associated with the day originate with Irish soldiers serving with the British Army in colonial New York, who wanted a way to connect with home. From there, festivities spread to embrace the global Irish Diaspora - and back home to Ireland itself - as a celebration of Irish roots. But on St Patrick's Day, everyone can be an honorary Irishman for a day, swirled-into the mix through New York, Boston, Chicago...

And so Patrick, himself transplanted as a slave, is further transplanted: from patron saint of Ireland; to patron saint of Irish immigrants; to patron saint of immigrants, wherever they originate from.

Like the USA, the UK has a long tradition of being open to controlled, legal immigration; of resisting uncontrolled, illegal immigration; and of having to deal, from time to time, with the tensions resulting in different communities living side-by-side in close proximity. In one form or another, immigration is never out of the news these days. St Patrick's Day is as good an excuse as any to take time to think about the topic; to pray for those who have to make, and enforce, decisions on people's lives; to reach out in friendship towards someone from another culture; to make a stand against racism...Raise a glass in honour of Patrick.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Broken, Gathered-Up


In Christ, God has taken upon himself the broken nature of his creation;
being broken - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually - on an urban rubbish-dump...

In Christ, God has taken upon himself the discarded nature of his creation;
being discarded by humanity and forsaken by divinity, on an urban rubbish-dump...

In Christ, broken-ness is swallowed-up by Life;
soaked-up like wine mixed with myrrh is soaked-up by a sponge...

In Christ, that which has been discarded is gathered-up by Love;
re-fashioned into a thing of beauty, and given away...

In Christ, the broken and discarded - people, places, things - of this world are re-cycled, re-created, re-branded: Worth It;
are restored - given a place of high honour, over that which proclaimed its wholeness and place of central position...

And us, made in the image of a Creating God, in the likeness of a Redeeming God, and made-alive by the Breath of God? Let us be found on the edge, outside the city walls that delineate visible society; and let us be found playing in the dirt, from which we were made, and to which we shall return...


[Before Philadelphia became the city campus for St Thomas' it was an electrical engineering works. The previous owners moved to other premises, leaving behind discarded pieces of metal, of various shapes and sizes. Very early on, someone took some copper wire and fashioned it into a loose globe; took nails, bound together by electrical wire, and fashioned a cross; and brought the two together in a piece of art that was placed in the Chapel.]

Job Interview

I have a job interview this evening - 6:30pm GMT - for a 12hr/wk staff post at a local independent-living housing scheme for 9 young adults with Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus and related disabilities. One of the residents is a member of our (wider) church community.

It is only 12 hours a week. This would leave me the flexibility to do other things, whether they were casual or regular, paid or voluntary. Anyway, I am a firm beliver that it is our responsibility to look for evidence of God's Kingdom at work in the world, and his right(eous)ness; and God's responsibility to provide for us - and also that the desire to provide for our families holds more parents back from really seeking the Kingdom than anything else...

Anyway, if you pray, you might like to pray that the interview goes well, whatever the outcome. Cheers.

Liturgy For A Snowy Day













As the snow falls to the earth, covering all imperfection in its embrace,
so may my life be hid in Christ;

As the snow falls to the earth, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary,
so may my life be transformed by Christ;

As the snow falls to the earth, causing man, woman, and child to walk with greater care, and wonder,
so may my life be a sign for Christ.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Consumer/Co-author, Strategy/Tactics

I’m reading Steve Taylor’s the out of bounds church? – a book that has been on my wish-list for ages now, and which I’ve been bought at last. I’ve never met Steve face-to-face, but he’s a guy I like and admire; and I really appreciate the way in which he shares the ideas that come out of his community.

I’m not too far in yet, but I’m really enjoying it. One of the insights that struck me is the idea – taken from the work of French Jesuit Michel de Certeau – of “strategy” and “tactics.”

One of the criticisms regularly levelled against the kinds of communities that get labelled, variously, “emerging churches” or “fresh expressions” of church or “that’s not really church at all…” is that they pander to consumer culture; they conform to society, rather than seek to prophetically transform society. (See John M. Hull’s Mission-shaped Church: A Theological Response for the latest incarnation of this criticism.) And one of the answers regularly given is that we live in a consumer culture, whether we like it or not; that we are called to embody the gospel in that context; and that such communities offer multiple entry/access-points to the church for a multi-cultural population. (See Mission-shaped Church: church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context as an example.)

But – in typical French fashion – de Certeau’s work deconstructs this simple picture. Yes, as physical beings we all consume; but as creatures made in the image of a Creator God, we also create. And increasingly, culture – or the meaning attributed to cultural forms – are not being generated by an elite few, but by everybody; culture by democracy, not oligarchy. We do not simply choose between option a), option b), or option c) – in church terms, perhaps between the local Anglican church, Presbyterian church, and Baptist church; or between 1880s hymns or 1980s choruses. Alongside the consumer culture – and growing fast – the co-author culture re-uses and re-combines available material to create something new. It is the philosophy of recycling, applied to cultural forms.

So, de Certeau’s strategies and tactics: in a context of cultural shift,
“Strategies are the ways institutions seek to organise a stable reality. Tactics are what people do with these external strategies in everyday life.” [Taylor, p. 37]
Taylor gives the example of a Baptist church that ran a second-hand clothes shop as a means of engaging with the local community; and his hairdresser, who used the shop to engage with personalised fashion.

The Church of England is currently engaged in a conversation about strategies for mission and growth in our shifting cultural context. Strategies have been proposed; and criticised. The thing that makes me smile, reading Taylor, is the realisation that whatever comes out of the conversation will be taken up and re-written. Critics of Mission-shaped Church should recognise that their fears of a shallow un-thinking consumer church are unlikely to materialise. Champions of Mission-shaped Church should recognise that their hopes of entry/access-points will further change the communal spaces beyond them, in ways in which the institution will have no control over...


Podcasting

I am hoping to start occasional podcasting, as a means of exploring story-telling, in the near future.

WYSIWYG

On Sunday, it snowed. It began to fall at around nine o’clock in the morning – tiny flakes, like the clippings of a baby’s fingernails, or desiccated coconut. It kept up for over five hours: silent; persistent; blown everywhere on the breeze; insinuating itself through the cracks between door and frame.

The larger the flakes, the more water in them; and the more likely they are to melt on impact with the ground. These flakes were minute – very dry – and layered-up quickly, one on top of another; until the world was, by degrees, turned magical. I find myself, often, stood at the kitchen window, caught, transfixed by snow; then shake my head and move on, to that which must be attended to – only to catch myself some moments later, drawn back again, watching, watching, a corps of micro-ballerinas dressed in white.

After lunch, when the snow had stopped falling, but while there was still plenty of light, we went out snowballing; fathers, with daughters and sons.

That night, as I lay down in bed, rolling my shoulders and balling the duvet to get comfortable, I saw it snow again; this time, indoors. Snow, falling on my face – I saw it, with my eyes open, and, still there, with my eyes closed. And felt it: the kiss of each small flake landing on my cheek; I felt the cold in the breeze. How had it blown in, around the window, and made it across the room without melting on the air, to land on my face?

It wasn’t there; not in a physical sense. And yet, I saw it with my eyes, and felt it on my skin. Something unphysical was registered by my senses. A waking vision, of snow. The ‘real’ snow, of earlier in the day, had burnt its image on my retinas; its presence on my nerve-endings.

We do not see, innocently, what is there; but what has left its imprint on us.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Confessions Of The Spring


In my thoughts, evidence of death, and evidence of life;

In my words, evidence of death, and evidence of life;

In my actions, evidence of death, and evidence of life.

May Jesus, who has already taken the credit for the death, have the credit for the life.

Winter Day


View across the Don Valley towards Parkwood Springs and the Sheffield Ski Village this morning, on the way down the hill to have coffee with Andy and Gill Wier.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

BIG Fight At Church Today...

No scandal or heated exchange of deeply-held theological differences here...

By "church" I mean church-as-extended-and-open-family, built around Sunday lunch together.

By "fight" I mean snowball fight!!!

After lunch, at Sean and Alison's, some of the dads - Sean, Meurig, Nick, Brian, me - and one game mum - Michelle (though in their defence, Alison, Laura and Jo were all playing the pregnancy card; and Jane wasn't there. So, Amanda, what was your excuse?!) took our collective menagerie of naughty children out the back to teach them a good lesson...

1. The secret to snowballing is to find the deepest drift of virgin snow, and to mine it speedily but not wastefully.
2. Throwing snow is much more fun than being hit by it...
3. Everyone-versus-Meurig is perfectly fair odds.

I Need God

I need God. It's not that I can do nothing without him; but that, without I AM, i am not.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Stately Bearing


As Jesus wrestled with Death for three days and emerged victorious, visibly the same Jesus, and yet visibly different...

As Gandalf wrestled with the Balrog for three days and emerged victorious, visibly the same Gandalf, and yet visibly different...

So the ball-bearing wrestled with my daughter for three days and emerged victorious, visibly the same ball-bearing, and yet visibly different.


Don't put ball-bearings in your mouth. But if you do, don't panic. You'll see it again. And it will have been Translated, by fire, from an incognito matt silver to a stately burnt gold...

Little Boy

I like looking out at our back garden at night, lit-up by the outside light. There's something about the way the grass looks - brighter, more green than by day - that hits me with an innocent wonder. And then there's the garden itself, disappearing into the dark - redolent of mild adventure...

...Perhaps I am a big kid. Perhaps that is a good thing.

Some Days


Some days I need God's grace to pour down on me, just to have the physical strength to get out of bed.

Some days I need God's grace to pour down on me, in order to manage the most mundane of tasks.

Some days I need God's grace to pour down on me, to melt the hardness of my heart.

Some days I need God's grace to pour down on me, to enable me to walk away from an argument.

Some days I need God's grace to pour down on me.


Some days I receive the grace to realise that these days are every day.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Manflu

Since Sunday night I have been what is known up north as 'poorly.' Localised aches in my limbs; inability to regulate my body temperature; that kind of thing. This week has been, pretty much, a write-off; I can't remember the last time I felt so 'poorly' for so many days in a row.

Not yet in work, I would have chanced gate-crashing the Mission 21 conference this week. I guess I'll just have to look out for stories from other bloggers who were there.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Kingdom, Canvas, Cardigan

Jesus told people to make it their priority to keep their eyes out for God's Kingdom breaking-in. It could be taking place anywhere; but most likely in the places we don't expect to find it. I find it breaking-in all over the place here - especially in the 'think' section. Take the time to pay a visit.

I love Howies' twice-yearly art competitions [you can view the best submissions online]. The purpose - executed in whatever media you like - is simply to make people think. The power of art is that it provokes multi-directional lateral thoughts. The best art - like the best films, and the best novels - doesn't tell you what to think; it provokes you to think for yourself.

I see the Kingdom at work in Howies not only in the uncompromising way in which they confront the status quo, the power-structures of our day; but also in the generosity they extend - they don't want everyone to be just like them; don't think they have all the answers; and don't think everything about the world they are challenging is bad. They hold out an alternative way to live, an alternative future to imagine into being, and ask others to make their own decisions.

The Kingdom of God is just like that; and, at its best, so could the Church be...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Gift

We're having a friend round for dinner later on, so I prepared tea just for S & N. Standing at the hob, I happened to look out of the window, and saw that it was snowing - hard. The garden was transformed by large, swirling, white flakes, falling out of the sky. The ordinary became extraordinary.

It lasted for about a minute and a half. Nothing at all, really. And I could have chosen to be disappointed: better no snow than the promise of snow that fails to deliver...But I chose something else. I chose to open myself to the view from my window, however short, as a beautiful gift. And to say thank you.

It only takes a moment for the world to be transformed forever. But if you aren't looking, you just might miss it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Springtime




The winter of metered dial-up has thawed; the spring of unlimited broadband is here once more...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Gracious

More Lent resources via Jonny Baker. This is a great resource library. Thanks, Jonny!

Ash Wednesday


“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
God, to Adam; Genesis 3:19

“Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you moulded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.”
Job, to God; Job 10:8-12

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Job, to his friends; Job 19:25-27

[see also]