Saturday, May 27, 2006


Our shower has been broken for a fortnight. All repairs have to go through the letting agents; and heels have been dragged. In the meantime, basin washes; and washing hair in the showers after swimming today at the public baths.

And then the washing machine died, on Thursday. Again, permission was sought (and more speedily granted) to replace it – this time installing a machine of our own, which we ordered on Friday, and will be delivered on Thursday. We went for a model that is low in energy consumption and volume of water used. In the meantime, we’re making use of friends’ machine just along the road.

It is inconvenient.

But then again, there are women in Africa who walk miles, daily, to get to their clean, safe water supply – and miles back again – and whose water consumption is restricted to however much they can carry on their heads…Now, that puts inconvenience into perspective.

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Five Pence

My daughter held out both fists in front of her and asked, “Which hand?”
I chose the right.
She opened it to reveal a small silver coin.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It says…five pence.”
“What can you get for five pence?”
“I don’t know. What can you get?”
“Not much, on its own. But if you add it to enough other coins, you can buy almost anything you like. It’s a bit like with people. One person on their own can’t do much to change the world; but when enough people join together, they can.”

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Climate Chaos

From time to time the BBC take a particular topic and explore it from different angles through a combination of specially commissioned programmes and guest-editions of regular programmes. Currently they are running a Climate Chaos series, on the global impact [‘global’ both geographically – i.e. the world – and topically – e.g. ecology, economics, etc.] of global warming. It has become clear that we – humans – have dramatically interfered with the planet that is our home to negative consequence; and is less clear how we can – indeed, whether we can – help to turn the situation around. And that is a deeply theological issue.

According to the Bible, humanity is so closely woven in with the rest of life on earth that when God decided that he would remove humans from creation the (environmental) ‘solution’ takes every other species (none of whom, other than the humans, had grieved God) with them…
…and when God secures the survival of the human species through Noah and his family, every other species is renewed in the same rescue process. Indeed, represented by the birds sent out from the ark to look for dry land, the animal kingdom is actively involved, not passive participants.

Theologically, creation is integrated; that integration is fractured, through human choices; and God is looking to restore that integration through a humanity restored to relationship with him, through Jesus, the ‘second Adam,’ or integrated-with-the-world-human representative.

The body of evidence that creation is integrated, and that that integration is fractured trough human choices, is growing week-on-week. Perhaps thoughts that theology has a role to play in building the kind of change of behavioural patterns – and the underlying change of motivation such changes require – are not so very far-fetched. It would be sad if those who dismiss the possibility of God’s existence and see (rightly, but selectively) Christianity as complicit in the problems we face, were the only voices in the public conversation.

Further reading: Genesis 6-9; Colossians 1:9-23.

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Green Fingers

One day I’d love to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show; but this year I’ve had to content myself with catching snippets of the BBC coverage.

What I find so important about these gardens is the intentional creation of space in which to experience restoration, recreation in the re-creation sense; and the role pleasure plays in that healing process. I believe that God wants us to be happy; but that if we pursue happiness it will elude us, whereas if we pursue the reconciliation of God and his creation, we will find it.

Water is, to my mind, an essential element in such a space; and it was great this year in particular to see so many creative ways of recycling water, so that its use is environmentally constructive, not destructive. There is something about water – the way it invites all five senses to experience its presence, its interaction with the rest of the garden; and also the deep symbolic connection between water and cleansing, life, even – that makes it a wonderful healing gift from God, a precious evidence of his care for creation.

The gardens also spoke to me of human partnership with the rest of creation, through complementary planting, species survival, and community development initiatives supported in Africa and Latin America by various exhibitors.

Perhaps the most well-known, and most misread, verse in the Bible is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life [or, life in all its fullness]. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We tend to read this verse anthropocentrically – For God so loved the people of the world…But God’s vision is bigger by far: for us to live life to the full – the fullness of what God wants for us – is (would be) good news for the whole of creation.

The emerging church will need to develop not only a theology but a missiology of gardening, on a glocal [combining the global and the local] scale.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


One of our favourite shops is Beanies Wholefoods. I guess it is primarily used as a greengrocers; and then a wholefood grocer (they have an incredible barley couscous, much tastier than ‘normal’ couscous); but they stock a wide range of natural alternative products. The co-operative has a Buddhist/vegan ethos, but, when it comes to stewarding creation, they’ve led the way for a growing number of meat-eating dairy-product-loving Christians (Blessed be the Cheese-makers) I know in Sheffield.

In my view, you can’t take the commission to make disciples seriously unless you take the commission to steward creation seriously – unless consideration of our collective and personal environmental impact is part of our being and making disciples. On a personal level, we’re eating an almost entirely organic diet now; using natural cleaning products on the whole (especially washing-up and laundry liquids – stuff that runs off into the water supply); and today I’ve put into action something I’ve been contemplating for a while now: natural-ingredient deodorant.

Is it as sweat-maskingly effective as the pharmaceutical brands? I’ve no idea (so far, so good though). Is it better for the planet? Well, the jury might be out on highly-localised air-pollution; but when it comes to water-pollution, I’m sold. Check out this little meditation on the matter over at howies (another favourite), and think for yourself…

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Schism, Prism

The history of the Church has been marked by divergence over theological debate. While these partings-of-the-way were mostly painful at the time, with neither side coming off in a particularly good light; God, in his providence has worked in all these things to bring forth good. The result is a rich tapestry of truths and insights into the One who is the Truth; a diversity too wide for any one individual to embrace, and yet one in which we can affirm the traditions of others without necessarily having to embrace them.

Those of us who journey within expressions of Church emerging in continuity with the Church of England face our own theological debates. So, today’s point of minutiae is:

Leffe Blonde-Blond, or Leffe Brune-Bruin?

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Fathers And Sons

Today is my dad’s birthday. I took this informal portrait of mum and dad in their back garden on a recent visit to Glasgow.

Dad and mum were (and still are) missionaries before me. I like that. It is a rich inheritance – all the richer for the differences between us. Just as their biological DNA is recycled in me, to create something at once unique and continuous; so their spiritual DNA is recycled in me to create something new…

I also really value doing the line of work (broadly speaking; I don’t mean the specific circumstances of my current employment) my father did before me. It just feels ‘right.’ Joseph and David might have finished as First Minister of Egypt and King of Israel respectively, but they both started out on their dads’ farms; Andrew, Peter, James and John might have ended up as disciples, sacred writers, martyrs, patron saints of nations, but they all started out working their dads’ fishing boats; Jesus might have gone on to build rooms in heaven under his heavenly Father, but he apprenticed as a carpenter in Nazareth under his earthly dad. God may choose to call a son in a new direction (my dad’s dad worked in imports in the City of London), but the family business is a good place to start from…

Happy birthday, dad! Many happy returns of the day.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Rapture, For Pre-Schoolers

I don't know who has been filling my son's head with Left Behind-esque rapture stories (it certainly wasn't me); but yesterday I overheard him making up a little song at the kitchen table:

"Five men, walking up a hill. BANG! Then there were four...
Four men, working in a lane. BANG! Then there were three..."

Bursting To Tell You...

Can you keep a secret?

Yesterday, Jo went out to initiate a first-time mum-to-be into the Sisterhood of the Washable Nappy Users. So I took Susannah and Noah for a very successful trip to Broomhill in search of birthday presents for a friend from school, grandpa (dad - it will get there a couple of days late), and mummy; and hot chocolate all round. It was a gift to spend the time together.

When we got home, we had a little talk: "Listen. We can tell mummy about the presents for [friend] and grandpa, and about the hot chocolates, but we musn't tell her about the present you got for her. Okay?" "Okay dad."

No sooner had Jo come in through the door, than...

Susannah: "MummymummywewenttoBroomhillandwegotapresentfor[friend]andapresentforgrandpaandwehadhotchocolates...and we got a present for you!"
me: "Shhh!"
Noah: "Mummy, mummy, we got you earings!"
me: "So, that'll be a surprise then."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mirror-image, And Absence

I have a number of close friends, each of whom have been committed Christians for many years, who find themselves at present questioning whether God is interested in being actively involved for good in their lives, or even exists. For some, the thing they are wrestling with is the gulf between their experience – in particular, various different kinds of loss – and the way in which they hear other Christians – in particular, those in positions of leadership – talk about life lived in relationship with God. For others, the thing they are wrestling with is finding that God is silent – or, perhaps worse, has become silent – again compounded by a church culture that speaks freely of hearing God clearly and regularly. In each case, there is concern of being rejected – or at least told that the problem lies within themselves – by their community if they were to publicly break the (perceived or actual? probably a bit of both) conspiracy of certainty.

I’m of the opinion that, this side of heaven, our experience of God is always partial, always provisional, continuously being over-written, “but a poor reflection…” And that does not mean that I believe that God is unknowable, or that he hasn’t revealed himself to us: just that we don’t have any right to be dogmatic about our knowledge, our experience of relationship with God. It is a child, not an adult, who needs the world to be a simple, black-and-white, place. And there is something that is greater than both faith and hope, and that is love.

[The photos are reflections of my daughter – someone who exists, and whom I know in part – in the kettle and a mirror.]

But I’m wondering about something else. One of the ways Jesus described God (and he should know), in more than one context and on more than one occasion, is as a man who goes away on a journey for a long time [the parable of the tenants, Matthew 21:33-46 // Mark 12:1-12; the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30]. I’m wondering what it means to take that description seriously – and I’d want to suggest it means that just because God is omnipresent does not mean that our experience of God is, or is meant to be, omnipresent. Perhaps experiencing the absence of God is not abnormal, but one aspect of the normal Christian life; not the result of some failing to exercise faith on the part of the human, but the result of one aspect of God’s character – a God who, according to Jesus, will return (this experience may be long, but it isn’t indefinite) and will restore justice (making right the wrongs we have suffered, as well as those we have inflicted). That might not make everything okay…but it does mean that you can tell your equivalent of Job’s comforters to take a long walk off a short pier (in a loving and non-judgemental way, of course).

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish things behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:8-13

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Thursday, May 18, 2006


What came first: the chicken, or the egg?

It’s not a trick question. In order to have both chickens and eggs, you need to have both chickens and eggs. What came first is a matter of both context – the existence of any given chicken assumes the pre-existence of a given egg; the existence of any given egg assumes the pre-existence of a given chicken – and perspective – if what I am looking for is chicken for my tea, the egg came first; if what I am looking for is egg for my breakfast, the chicken came first.

What comes first: church, or mission?

What comes first: church activities, or missional activity?

Should the expressed form of the local church determine the expressed form of her mission, or vice versa?

The overwhelming paradigm in the UK is that the egg of mission is laid by the chicken of the church (or the para-church). And I do believe that mission can flow from the local church (though I sometimes wonder whether some of those chickens trying to lay eggs aren’t, in fact, cockerels). But, given both my context and my perspective, I want to foster the other side of the life-cycle: eggs of mission giving birth to chickens of the local church – churches that start out as chicks, and aren’t force-fed to premature maturity.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Taking The Circular Route

When I wrote my PhD thesis, I wrote over 200,000 words that never made it into the submitted work, mostly written before the mere 90,000 that did. I needed to write those 200,000 words in order to arrive at the 90,000. It was a process, a journey. When I arrived at the point where I could write the thesis, I actually wrote it very quickly. What came before was slow. Although none of those words are visible, what is visible builds on them; and, to my mind at least, only makes sense in the light of those other, discarded, words. [God knows what sense, if any, readers have made of my thesis. Thankfully, that is not my responsibility.]

So, I've been writing towards some commissioned thoughts [and writing to someone elses remit is - as I only belatedly remember from my dim and distant undergraduate days - much harder than writing to your own stream of thought]. I've come up with around 5,000 so far; none of which will ever [in their current incarnation, at any rate] see the light of day. May be I'm a little closer now than I was to something that might...

Close Encounters

Les enfants de l'artiste avec la loupe dans le jardin.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

The Ever-Changing Face Of The Familiar

Or, Why Repetitious Actions Are Not Repeatable

I love the paintings of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, and in particular those of Monet and Cézanne. Both artists would paint favourite subject matter over and over again – Monet because he was obsessed with capturing the moment, the way in which changing light transformed the same view into a completely different one; Cézanne because he was obsessed with the solidity of form, which changes with every slight change in the angle from which it is viewed [if they were around today, Monet might make the ‘skins,’ or visible surface, of websites; Cézanne, the code structure underpinning the functionality]. Whether by a change in light, or of perspective, what was physically in front of them did not matter as much as what they saw.

It might not compare with Monet’s garden at Giverny, but I can always spend time standing at the kitchen door, looking out on the little garden of our rented house. I took these photos today, in the rain, under a flat grey sky. It might not look like much to you, but I see the gooseberry bush and the redcurrant bush behind it, both just coming into fruit; the two apple trees beyond them, both in blossom, the further one chocked by ivy; the ivy-covered shed at the far end; the bluebells unfurling along the path. It might not look like much, but it is beautiful, in its own way.

And as I look, I think about my friends, my community: the way their faces are transformed by light, or shade; by joy, or sorrow…the underlying solid planes of their character; that endure, or at least change more slowly. You can learn a thing or two about friendship, and about pastoral care, from looking at – I mean really looking at – a garden; or an Impressionist painting.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gone Out - Back Later

I haven't been out and about in the bloggosphere much of late...

In part, I've been writing in other contexts. I've been invited to write a couple of chapters on, essentially, emerging church - the nature of church/mission/discipleship/etc. in a C21st/western/postmodern/etc. context - for a book of global missiological contributions. I guess the irony is that the invitation is in large part on the basis of what I have written, visibly, here, over many months...and that suffers as a result. I wish I was a genius, perhaps like tsk...[; )]

In part, I've been working, and helping out one afternoon a week at my daughter's school, and shopping for groceries, and spending time with my family...and neglecting all of these things on occasion...It's not that there's too much on my plate (or that I'm trying to keep too many plates spinning at once); just that life is like that. I guess the secret is to live in the moment - not focusing on the thing I'm not doing instead of the thing I am doing, at any given time. Otherwise everything and everyone gets second-best.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Time Goes By, So Slowly...

At three seconds past two minutes after one o'clock tomorrow morning, the time will be 01:02:03, 04/05/06. Miss it, and you'll have to wait a hundred years for your next opportunity to experience those numbers lining-up like that...

...I may live to regret not staying up to experience the moment; but that's a risk I'm willing to take ; )

A Criminal Use Of Language

‘Law and Order’ has always been one of the most influential issues in British politics, and is, once more, centre-stage ahead of this week’s local elections. But the debate has a new word this time around: “criminality.”

a) To be “guilty of committing (a) crime(s)” means to have broken the law.
b) To be “guilty of criminal behaviour” describes the actions taken in breaking the law.
c) To be “guilty of criminality” implies that one is inherently criminal, incapable of not committing crime.

If what is meant by “criminality” is a) or b), please – politicians and reporters – can we stick to using perfectly adequate existing words? But I suspect that the slide from crime to criminality is not so much sloppy use of language as deliberate use of language. And it is troubling: for the designation “guilty of criminality” both demonises those to whom it is applied, and absolves those who commit crime of responsibility for their actions. How might we possibly respond to criminality, other than by continuing to add and add to the numbers of inmates in our already overcrowded prisons? While we’re at it, why not pre-emptively incarcerate immigrants and the under-class, or Jews and gypsies, on the basis of group-criminality?

It would be a crime to allow the use of criminality to go unchecked. The debate is too significant for that…

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Monday, May 01, 2006

The Impressionists

We’ve just had a good Bank Holiday weekend break up in Glasgow with my side of the family. Last time we were there, my sister was very ill. It was great to see her so much better; and everyone else so much more relaxed.

On Sunday night, we watched the first episode of the BBC’s new three-part mini-series on the lives of The Impressionists. With an excellent cast, high production values, and a script drawing on the painters’ letters and diaries along with interviews and reviews in the French press of the time; and revealing the stories behind the creation of several of their most influential paintings, as well as the artists’ lives; this made great viewing.

I was struck by a number of observations, and their parallels with the emerging church:

Fluid, Networked Relationships:
Monet, Renoir and Bazille were the closest of friends, “three musketeers.” Manet became a friend, but was more of an inspiration. Degas was a friend of Manet’s, sympathetic to the core-group that became known as the Impressionists, without choosing to fully identify himself with them. Cezanne related to the Paris-based set, but chose to spend most of his time working alone in rural Provance. At times, the painters worked together, in different combinations, different locations; at other times they worked alone, going off in different directions, then coming-together again…

Generous Investment in the Other:
Monet and Renoir would become two of the most famous painters in the history of art, but while they were penniless and unrecognised, they were able to paint because Bazille invited them both to live with him in his apartment, allowed them to paint in his studio and using his paints, and funded them by buying their paintings when no-one else would. And Bazille was able to invest in Monet and Renoir because his parents (unlike theirs) were generous in investing in him, as both medical student and painter…

Institutional Power:
At the time, the only way to survive as an artist was to create work that was approved for show by the Paris Salon. The Salon judges had very particular views on what counted as art, based on vested interest; and controlled artists through exerting their power. The Impressionists tried year after year to have their vision of what art could be recognised by those “in authority,” but ultimately – in the face of sustained criticism from the Establishment – felt that they had no choice but to hold their own Exhibitions. In seeking to exercise Power in order to hold onto privileged position, the views of the Salon eventually lost Influence…

The thing that was so radical – and shocking – about the Impressionists’ work was that they were not content to carry on reproducing the accepted convention of Classical subject matter and style; but chose to paint scenes from the every-day life of their own culture; to paint as they saw; rough-around-the-edges. For the first time, they painted outdoors, as opposed to composing landscapes in the studio. And they measured their work by different criteria: when Renoir observed that the critics would say that a particular painting by Monet was unfinished, he replied, “It is complete.”

The Edge Becomes the Centre:
At the time, the Impressionists’ work was considered to be at the very edge of European art – off the edge of what counted as art, in the view of those who held the power. Today, Impressionism is absolutely the mainstream, commanding the highest prices at auction; endlessly reproduced; to the extent that we find it hard to appreciate how contentious it was in its day. The Edge is only radical in relation to the Centre; and, given time, the Edge becomes the Centre – and a new Edge emerges in relation to the new Centre…

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