Friday, April 29, 2005


Things are shaping up for a busy weekend. This morning Susannah had her pre-school boosters - an injection in both of her arms; followed by shoe-shopping for Noah at Meadowhall (two pairs, effectively for £1 thanks to money given us specifically for shoes for the kids); then on to The Alphabet Zoo soft-play centre (when I was a lad, my 'soft-play centre' was the field opposite our house; my climbing frame a Rowan tree...), but only for an hour as it was a gorgeous day outside; then home, to sit in the garden drinking tea (me) or dig dandelions out of the lawn (Jo) while the kids played outside.

This evening, Jo and I spent a couple of hours with about fifty people who are looking to join the missional community we are part of. In particular, it was great to see some of my Scandanavian friends - Pehr from Sweden, Christoffer and Johanna from Finland, and Peter and Hanna from Denmark (Peter and Hanna lived in Sheffield for a year a few years back). We reflected on Jesus' model of prayer, which embraces the Father's character, the Father's kingdom, the Father's provision, the Father's forgiveness, the Father's guidance, and the Father's protection - and engages with any and every situation in life.

More time together tomorrow, though we'll only be with them in the morning, as Susannah is to be a bridesmaid for the first time, at Matt and Berniece's wedding, in the afternoon!

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I ate my mid-day meal at the same table as two people - one from the North, one from the South - who were debating whether they were eating dinner or lunch.

In my opinion, the proper progression of meals through the day is:

Second Breakfast (LOTR devotees will know what I mean)
Afternoon Tea (aka High Tea)

Right now, I'm hungry for a 'church' that is built around discipleship, not meetings.

By the way, Andrew Hamilton's post, Words - in particular the words "Emerging" "Missional" and "Church" - is well worth a look... are the marks of Authenticity Jonny Baker lifted today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dumb Down

Genuine Tesco product labelling, pointed out to me by my wife at breakfast this morning:

pasteurised, homogenised, semi-skimmed milk.
Allergy information: contains milk.

Oh my goodness, what has the world come to???!!!

I've been thinking about Ben's comment on my Probes post: "...Been feeling for a while that there is a need for a new model of teaching and learning, just as there is for worship." (I agree 100% we need a new model of teaching and learning.) The thing I've been thinking about is the connection between 'teaching and learning' and 'worship' - and, therefore, the connection between "a new model of teaching and learning" and "[a new model of] worship."

Over the years, I've experienced first-hand several different church patterns of teaching and worship (primarily Church of Scotland, post-Brethren, traditional Church of England, and charismatic evangelical Anglican/Baptist co-habitation; with 'exposure to' many others, including Asian and Australian Anglicanisms, United Church of Zambia, Pentecostal, and Lutheran). Although they have varied widely in style, the relationship between worship and teaching is pretty much the same: that a time of corporate worship opens/prepares the individual to hear and receive the word of God, usually expressed through a sermon. In other words, worship is (in a large part) a means to an end (the end, possibly ironically, being the worshipper).

Personally (and at the risk that only Ben understands what I mean), I'd like to see the worship/teaching dichotomy deconstructed.

I've heard it said that "worship" declares who God is (i.e. his nature) and "praise" declares what God has done (i.e. his actions). I'm not sure how far you can divide divine being/doing, but insofar as it is a helpful distinction, I'd suggest that worship is a response to who God is and that praise is a response to what God has done. But, these responses - at least at a corporate or community level - have perhaps been dumbed-down over time: singing a series of songs, or progressing through a series of liturgy, that make a series of general statements about God. At the moment, it might be timely to consider the place of responses to particular aspects of God's nature, particular things he has done...

Here is an example of one possible model:
We believe that God is Creator (being), so, why not show video images of creation (doing) - an unborn human baby in the womb; a nebula of burning gas deep in space; the Amazonian rainforest - these are all "words" that reveal God - and allow a response to God as Creator to rise up (there is no reason why such a response cannot be ordered/structured)? Why not give the preacher the week off, and invite someone qualified to do so to speak about fetal development, or the universe, or ecosystems, as jumping-off points for worship? Why not include parallel images of human activity - both creative and destructive of creation - and allow a response of intercession for the world to rise up?

At the very least having a pattern where worship flows out of teaching/learning gives an alternative to teaching/learning following worship that may work as a preservative, stopping the gathered church from going stale too quickly. But that in itself is not nearly enough. More than simply flipping the existing running-order, such a model actually begins to break down the artificial distinctions that have been built up between the two. Teaching/learning and worship are not intended to be two separate entities: whatever the "new models" Ben and I (and others) are seeking will look like, they will need to integrate the two - not continue to address each as a parallel track...

Thursday, April 21, 2005


I'm really enjoying Jonny Baker's blogsite at the moment, especially his compilation of Worship Tricks, and his Probes. Check it out.

Just as Susannah is moving beyond Chicken-Pox, Noah is covered in the little, red, blistering spots...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Did You Mean To Say That?

aura: noun
1. An invisible breath, emanation, or radiation.
2. A distinctive but intangible quality that seems to surround a person or thing; atmosphere.

aurora: noun
1. A luminous atmospheric phenomenon appearing as streamers or bands of light sometimes visible in the night sky in northern or southern regions of the earth (e.g. the Aurora Borealis, an aurora that occurs in northern regions of the earth, also called the Northern Lights). It is thought to be caused by charged particles from the sun entering the earth's magnetic field and stimulating molecules in the atmosphere.
2. The dawn.

Yesterday, one of the adult workers at Susannah's nursery told Jo that we - Susannah's parents - both had "a lovely aurora" about us...cue images of Northern Lights, halo-like, around my head!

We assume she meant "aura" (2.); but I like what she actually said...

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and deprived generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..." (Philippians 2:14-16)

"You are the light of the world...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Elections (Collegiate And General)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election as Pope - to be known as Benedict XVI - must surely be the least surprising election result in history. Pope John Paul II stacked an overwhelmingly conservative College of Cardinals in order to secure Ratzinger as his successor, and guarantee that the Roman Catholic church continued in the conservative direction of the past quarter-century.

Ironically, if Ratzinger remains Pope for any length of time (he is the oldest Pope to be chosen in over 100 years, and the last-but-one Pope only lasted 33 days...) it is highly likely that the exact opposite will occur: during the last papacy the Catholic church grew not only numerically but also demographically younger, and John Paul II was held in great personal affection by millions of Catholics who strongly disagreed with many of his strongly-held views; Ratzinger will not hold their affection in anything like the same way, and, with the possibility of reform of the church from the top down apparently firmly closed, reform of the church from the bottom up might just become unstoppable...

Earlier on today I was reflecting on the forthcoming General Election here in the UK, in the light of the paradigm-shift in British politics. Back when I was a student, in the early Nineties, it was all so simple: the Conservatives were on the right-wing of the political spectrum; Labour was on the left-wing; and the Liberal Democrats occupied the middle-ground. And, as one of my Christian friends said, "I can't see how you can be a Christian if you don't vote Tory." [that is, Conservative] And, as another of my Christian friends said in reply, "I can't see how you can be a Christian if you don't vote Labour." And me? I voted Lib Dem.

Since then, Labour has moved to the right, first in order to secure election (at heart, the British are historically more right-wing than left) and then consolidating their ground in order to ensure that the Conservatives could not easily return to power. This left an open space to the left of British politics (not really a problem, given a right-wing population); forced the Conservatives further to the right; and, as a result of this general shift, opened the door to a number of even more right-wing parties which have emerged into the open. Ironically for a Labour Prime Minister, responsibility for the rise of right-wing nationalist parties may go down - along with the extremely controversial and unpopular decision to go to war in Iraq - as Tony Blair's lasting legacy.

I feel uneasy about the (likely) prospect of a third term of Labour government. Fundamentally, I think that any one party being in power for such a long time - regardless of their ideology - is not good for the country: they tend to stop listening to, and representing, the people. In my opinion, what was so bad about so many years of Tory rule was not so much their policies - inevitably a mix of 'good', 'bad' and maybe even 'indifferent' - but simply the fact that they remained in power so long. Three terms of Labour will not be any better - their policies, too, are mixed. Personally, I'm not particularily convinced by Democracy anyway (I've yet to see this ancient Greek idea work well in practice anywhere); I'm dismayed that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have moved much further away from appealing to people's hopes and instead prey on their fears; and I'd quite like to see a system where our three main parties rotate government for two terms at a time and Members of Parliament have to work together across party lines much more openly than they currently do. Of course, it will never happen...but regardless of that, I think that the church is called to offer constructive criticism - and where necessary, opposition - to whoever is in political power; and to inform both Government- and Oppostion-party policies. In that sense, we are called to be a voice calling "Prepare the way for the Lord" in the wilderness, to speak from the margins of society.

I believe that we (whether Cardinal Princes of the Catholic Church or General Electorate of the United Kingdom) need to listen to God and take our part in seeking His will be done in those elections where we are called upon to vote. But we don't have God's perspective on the impact of those decisions, even if we believe we understand His will; and I, for one, am glad that Eternity puts a different perspective on whatever comes to pass in Time.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Strange But True

I was struck by something a friend of mine said today, about how we ought to relate to those around us. He observed that people who are part of the church create language-barriers to communicating with people outside of the church, by using obscure code-words such as "witness" or "evangelism" or "mission" or "outreach", but that one of Jesus' favourite phrases was, "I tell you the truth..." - a phrase my friend had read a million times, simply as a somewhat strange way of starting sentences, perhaps as a way of sounding wise, but had suddenly read as the whole point: the medium and the message, if you like. Now, I can imagine that a lot of people who are part of the church might read that and say, "Well, obviously; where's the revelation in that?" - but if you do, I think you might be kidding yourself. "I tell you the truth" is a phrase worth reflecting on.

As I reflect on what was said, I recognise that language does create communication barriers as well as connections (a sort of built-in frustration that I guess originates at the Tower of Babel, if not before), and that we need to be aware of how we use it (for example, a lot of people I know refer to "Up-In-Out" to describe their relationships with God, other Christians, and 'everyone else'; this is helpful as a diagnostic tool to check whether our lives are balanced - do I have any meaningful relationships outside of the church? - but becomes supremely unhelpful when people start talking about "doing an Out"). Moreover, "truth" is itself a word that comes with all manner of baggage, and if we believe we have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and that others must agree with us whether they want to or not, I think we still end up in trouble when relating to those around us.

But I think the problem is not just our choice of words, but our understanding of the words we choose. For example, I would choose to define my "mission" as seeing God's life-giving kingdom breaking into a situation and driving back satan's death-bringing rule - defined simply by anything that brings life, rather than death, being on the increase. So, going back to the Up-In-Out diagnostic above, I'd include my participation in MakePovertyHistory, and my choices to recycle, use washable nappies on my children, and eat organic and fairly-traded food, as all being part of the Out dimension of relating to the world and the people of the world around me. But I know (and love, though I am often frustrated by) a lot of people who would define "mission" in a much narrower sense.

Knowing that I do not have the full picture, I still want to inspire others to make the choices I am making - to come along with me on my journey - by telling them the truth as I know it, and allowing them to make up their own minds, hopefully through finding out more about the issue in question for themselves, and not just because I say so. Again, for some of the people I know and love that smacks of relavatism ("what do you mean, as you know it? We know it in full!"); but I think it merely smacks of recognising that I know in part and see as if I were looking at my own reflection in a highly-polished shield of bronze (as opposed to a modern mirror...) - and yet I am not paralysed, unable to make decisions that lead to movement. As someone else said to me recently (in relation to something completely different), it's not what you know that counts, but who you know.

Friday, April 15, 2005


I don't know if you've ever had an experience like this, but... one point this morning I was standing at the kitchen sink, when I saw myself in a church building I've never been in, very traditional in its basic construction (the stone pillars, the stained-glass windows) - but this church building had been radically internally redesigned. I only got a fleeting glimpse, but enough to 'sense', if not 'see', banked seating that created an intimate space for story-telling or forum-style debate; eating space - round restaurant tables as one came in, and the promise of a high-quality kitchen behind-the-scenes to match; a glass entrance in a town-centre location, drawing in workers on their lunch hour, who associated the building as a place to get good food and, if desired, the option of sensory stimulation - of sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch all being engaged, experiencing connection between creature and Creator. A building not designed around a Sunday service at all, but rather around creating a sanctuary space for the people who work in the surrounding shops and offices. An inviting space.

I have no idea whether this building exists. If it does, and you know of it, I'd love to hear from you. If not, I'd love to be involved in its creation...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Grand Designs

As most of my friends know, I am a bit of a TV junkie...Last night I was watching Grand Designs, a Channel 4 series about people who design and build, or have built, their own home. In part I like it because the homes are so creative, and in part I like it because the presenter, Kevin McCloud, is so enthusiastic about the people and projects he gets to observe.

Generalisation, I know (who, moi?), but housing in the UK tends to be somewhat lacking in imagination. Most houses are built around the idea of a series of box-shaped rooms, often with only one entrance/exit and too few/small windows, so that there is no continuous flow of movement - either of the body, or the eye; and if you are richer, you have larger boxes, and if you are poorer, you have smaller boxes...Most houses are also built out of inappropriate materials - e.g. brick in a wet climate, a porous and inflexible material, that sucks up the rain and erodes, and is a major job to repair/replace...

In contrast, some choose to create a home that is tailored to their own needs, creative in the use of space and light, often making use of innovative materials, to provide new answers to the questions that have grown up around house design, whether by convention or planning regulation. And the most ambitious projects - the projects that always go over timescale and over budget, almost breaking those who set out on them, financially, relationally, emotionally - are show-cased on Grand Designs, which follows the builds from conception to completion. When the dust has finally settled, the usual response is "well, it was worth it; we love the house; but, if we'd known then what we'd have to go through to get our dream, we'd never have embarked on it..." Sometimes, though, the response one year on is "regrettably, we've decided to sell the house and go back to something more conventional; we won't be going through this again..."

Anyway, last night's episode of Grand Designs featured someone who wanted to build a home in London, but could only afford to buy a thin strip of wasteland. Moreover, they had to build on it with certain major constraints: they could not build higher than a ground floor, and the house must not be visible from the road at the front of the plot...The solutions were creative: a steel-framed structure, long, flowing, with two 'mezzanine pods' that gave extra height without breaking the height restrictions. But the approach to building was even more creative: a scaffold was erected, and the roof beams hung from it, so that the house was built from the top down rather than from the ground up...This breaks every convention!

Life is a parable, and God speaks to us through everything if only our eyes and ears are open to him. If we are to create expressions of church that engage with, challenge, and transform postmodern society*, we need to break out of the box mind-set and have Grand Designs - and be prepared to risk everything for them. We will have to build on marginal strips, not only with innovative materials (including rediscovering old ones), but also with building approaches that defy conventional wisdom, flying in the face of 'how such things are done.' The results will not necessarily be reproduceable, though they might be. 'Success' is not measured on reproduceability alone. Frankly, it isn't for everyone; on so many levels, it will be too costly for many. But, deep down inside, don't you have a dream?

*Please don't misunderstand "postmodern society" to refer to some kind of intellectual elite. High on the News agenda at present is the end of the line for the Longbridge car manufacture plant in the Midlands. Industrialisation was one of the marks of Modernity; the information revolution one of the marks of Postmodernity. Here we see workers who are both skilled and experienced - but the world has moved on, and they will need to be 're-skilled'...That's just one example of postmodernity for all.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Polka-Dot Kid

"These chicken pox shouldn't have come." Susie Rose, 11/04/05. Sadness is...

But, she is being so good about it. I'm very proud of her.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

"A Plague On Both Your Houses"

I don't think the ill-fated Mercutio had chicken-pox in mind, but chicken-pox (so it would appear) is what Susannah has come out with today (and possibly Noah has too - which would explain why he was so miserable going round the Longshaw Estate in the freezing cold yesterday)...

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I knocked out a lot of loose plaster (the previous owner - a builder - had done a real botch-job, and we're only just now getting round to sorting it out), and Jo made her first attempt at plastering over a sizeable area. It looks pretty good for a first-time effort, and certainly no worse than the rest of the room!

In between the domesticity of our weekend, I've caught glimpses at least of the Pope's funeral yesterday, and the (postponed a day because of the funeral) wedding of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall today - and the (postponed some hours because of the wedding) Grand National steeplechase. It interests me that Civic Events should still command such interest in such an individualistic age; the crowd at the Pope's funeral in particular was full of young adults. The royal wedding was great - I thought the low-key nature of it appropriate, not so much in relation to the couple's history, but more so in relation to the monarchy behaving in an appropriate manner for twentifirst-century Europe - such as most of the senior members of the family leaving the blessing all together on a coach: Royals On Tour, or on some package holiday! More in keeping with Scandinavian monarchs who ride around on bicycles.

The Pope's funeral was clearly an occasion that caused many young adults to pause and consider how they will choose to live their lives, and face death when their time comes. The royal wedding Blessing spoke of seeking and receiving forgiveness, and determining to move on; of commitment to each other for the duration, albeit not to the approval of some; and also of the damage that duty can cause when it becomes Duty. This weekend leaves us with much to ponder. The question is, will these questions persist, demanding a lasting impact; or, will we have all moved on by next weekend, caught up in the onslaught of everyday life (not to mention General election campaigns)?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I survived! In fact, a house-full of little girls and boys, and attending mummies, was better than the thought of a house-full of little girls and boys, and attending mummies...

...To begin with, the children got to decorate their own cupcake - melted chocolate spread on top, in which to embed all sorts of Smarties, jellies, Hundreds and Thousands, sugar shapes...the completed works all set aside in a cupcake tray, each 'cup' name-labelled so they all got to take their own cake home (my wife is a genius!)...then on to Pass The Parcel...then blowing out the candles on the birthday cake, followed by cake and orange squash all round...and then all the kids spurned the other games Jo had prepared, and went and played Going On Holiday in the kids' bedroom in the attic, while the grown-ups stayed downstairs and had cups of tea and coffee. Great - Light-Weight Parties Are Us!

That said, as predicted we're totally worn out now...and would go to bed, but Desperate Housewives (at 10:00 pm) is just too adictive!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Big Is Beautiful

Today is Susannah's fourth birthday.

There comes a time in a girl's life when she discovers that, when it comes to gifts, "Small Is Beautiful." From then on, she wants diamond rings...But, at four, little girls think "Big Is Beautiful" - size, rather than expense, being the impact-factor. All Susie wanted for her birthday was a suitcase, to play Going On Holiday with: when we got her a real one for her, not a doll's one, she was blown away! And then Jo's parents gave her a high-chair and a car-seat for a new our "Big Is Beautiful" girl was beaming from ear to ear this morning! (They also sent a triangle for Noah, so percussion-boy was made up too.)

The cake that Jo and I finished making/decorating after midnight last night also went down a treat (visually - she won't eat it until her party, tomorrow). All Susie wanted was a round cake with sprinkles on it, so Jo baked a round chocolate cake, covered it in butter-icing, covered the sides with Hundreds and Thousands (harder than you might think), and I made a big "4" in rainbow-stripes of Smarties on the top. Jo also made several co-ordinating cup-cakes, (some of) which we ate today!

I took Susie round the corner to the florists to choose two lilys and two roses - 'Susannah' means 'lily'; her name is Susannah Rose; one flower for each year...It was the first time she'd gone into a 'posh' florists, and she was very excited. We want to buy her flowers every birthday, to establish a tradition. We also write in her card some things she's done for the very first time in the previous year, so she'll be able to look back when she is older. It's about treasuring memories in our hearts.

Later than planned (not only did we set off late, we also got lost on the way...) we met up with my parents at Chatsworth, to go to the children's farm and adventure playground. We started with a picnic, then the farm, then the playground. When we first went to the farm, Susie was terrified by the animals (I guess cows are very big when you are very small); but today Susie and Noah both loved seeing the goats, horses, pigs, cows, calves, sheep, lambs, ducks and chickens...

All in all, it has been a really good day. We're all exhausted now! Tomorrow we have a herd/flock of little friends - girls from nursery, boys from church - is this some underhand evangelistic ploy on susannah's part?! - coming for a party in the afternoon. I've no idea what state I'll be in by the evening...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Death Of The Pope

The BBC has just announced the news the world has been waiting for over the past 72 hours, that Pope John Paul II has died.

I'm not a Roman Catholic; I've never recognised the authority of the Pope; and in many ways I disagree with the ultra-conservative views he held. I even found it strange beyond words the way the media reported his final days as if there was nothing else going on in the world - as if Mugabe hadn't won a land-slide rigged election in Zimbabwe - as if the very world stopped spinning and held its breath...And yet I find myself moved by his passing.

I found myself moved, almost to tears, by a conversation with my Catholic next-door-neighbour-but-one over the garden fences this morning; as she planted an ornamental rose tree and dedicated it to John Paul II, and I hung out the washing on the line...we spoke of life, and death, and how the death of a believer is at once both happy and sad all mixed up together...

It is a funny thing how one man's death can touch so many lives, who did not even know they could be touched by him.