Monday, December 31, 2007

The Hope Dilemma

I'm not much of a telly addict but there are some shows that hook my attention. Top Gear obviously. Heroes has been the recent fave. And a little while ago, Lost, until it moved to Sky. But wahey, my sister bought us the complete Season 3 box set for Chrimbo so now every night Grace and I can get our fix. Last night we watched two in a row (very nearly three!) the second of which had a really fascinating bit of dialogue. Hard-man Sawyer was trying to talk his love interest Kate out of escaping from the cages they're being held in. Kate couldn't understand why he had suddenly become so resigned to his fate.

KATE: Go! Get out of here, run!
: You're out of your cage. Why don't you run?! Because me? I ain't running, 'cause there ain't no place to go.
: What are you talking about?
: We ain't on our island. We're on another island, like Alcatraz, couple miles off shore. So unless you're a mermaid, or you got a boat, there ain't no point.
: When were you planning on telling me this?
: Never.
: Why not?! Why wouldn't you?!
: 'Cause I wanted you to believe we had a goddamn chance.

This stood out to me because I've had similar thoughts myself. The circumstances of life can make us feel caged. We yearn for escape and form both personal and collective beliefs about when and how we will get out to a better place. But what if one person finds something out that has serious implications for the hope held onto by another one or many? Should that person share it and shatter the hope, or keep quiet, allowing the fragile but life-giving hope to live on?

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Insurgency of Love

"When a nation is conquered and occupied by another nation, insurgent movements seek to expel the occupiers. The insurgents see themselves not as criminals or rebels fighting a legitimate authority, but rather as a resistance movement fighting occupiers of injustice. They are freedom fighters seeking liberation from tyranny; they are a legitimate power seeking to expel an illegitimate one...
...everyone is caught up in the ultimate vicious cycle of terror and counterterror, violence and counterviolence, hate and counterhate. We can only escape by defecting from this whole vicious, suicidal system... walking away from the king in Rome, walking away from the armed rebels who dream of overthrowing him, and following a weaponless prophet in Galilee...
...seemingly disparate people defect and band together in the way of Jesus... they secretly plot detonations of hope. They quietly conspire to set off explosions of kindness. The plan gentle coup d'etats to replace regimes of domination and oppression with movements of empowerment and service. In a complete overthrow of violent terrorism, they fly planes of generosity into towers of need and plant improvised encouragement devices by roadsides in neighborhoods everywhere..."

from Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McLaren

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Dream

One of the favourite books I own is 'A Testament of Hope', an anthology of the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King Jr. When I need a moment of inspiration I'll often dwell for a few minutes on those great words. Probably the most famous speech King made was I Have A Dream, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 1963. It slowly builds by describing 100 years of frustration since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and then turns to face the outstanding injustice of the day with visionary fervour:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
And it's these words that are echoing in my heart as another year draws to a close. I'm wondering what kind of society we would live in if the same energy that has been directed at ensuring racial equality amongst our children were also to be directed at forming character in them.
As a parent I must confess that I do have some apprehension about the way my little boy will cope with the voices and the forces vying for influence over him. Will he come to see the sleaze and dysfunction as normality? Will he assimilate the inverted values of the world around him that heckles heroes and celebrates cynics? Or will we, his family, be successful in helping him grow the individual content of character that Martin Luther King foresaw as the essential building block of a just world. My Christmas prayer is that it will be the latter.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Secret of Happiness

For a while now I've resisted making reference to Facebook in my blog posts. Today however I need to succumb. You see during a dull moment I clicked on the little application that compares you to other people. 'Friends' basically answer questions about other 'friends'. All the answers then feed into a big league table. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a look at the table. Sadly I discovered that people don't consider me to be particularly sexy. Neither do they think I’m the slightest bit funny. Bizarrely though people do seem to think I come across as someone who is happy. I sat back and began to take it in. The experience was like smelling salts waking me up from unconsciousness. I realised I'm probably a lot happier than I generally give myself credit for.
So why am I happy? Well there's lots of big stuff I’m really grateful for - my marriage, my little boy, my health and all that stuff. But there’s definitely something else too that I would say adds to my happiness and I think that I’d describe it as ‘enjoying the little things’. For me the potential for happiness exists in every moment. God has given us a range of senses that, if we are paying attention, can give us pleasure every minute of every day. So here’s my 10 ways to find happiness in the ordinary:
1. Look for visual treats - enjoy the twinkle in someone’s eye
2. Chuckle at things - a silly typo in a newspaper
3. Taste the tang of life – always keep a crunchy apple nearby
4. Release some emotion - pray for an impossible situation
5. Give something away - make someone a brew
6. Aural enjoyment - soften the din of the day with an ambient soundtrack
7. Breathe deeply - open your car window and enjoy the breeze
8. Create something special - craft that boring email reply with pointless panache
9. Live grace - so what if you're right, just because you are it doesn't make them wrong
10. Keep learning – even when it goes tits-up you can find out something new

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Shades of Grey

The other night, after a church meeting, I found myself on the receiving end of some 'observations' about my leadership. Feedback is something that I really value and so I was all ears. However, it seemed that on this occasion I was being subjected to a somewhat binary assessment of my leadership style. My own experience of controlling leadership has made me extremely keen to resist this approach myself, and yet that was exactly what was being suggested.
After struggling for a while to grasp how this interpretation might have been arrived at it dawned on me that I was in a no win argument. You may have been in one of these conversations yourself, when you find yourself being drawn into a debate which is based on the false assumption that there are only 2 polar opposite positions to adopt, the issue is either black or it's white. But anyone who exists in the world of real human beings knows that things are rarely black and white, rather we are constantly dealing with shades of grey (with the occasional spalsh of colour if we're having a good day).
This particular conversation centred on the power dynamics of leadership, with the suggestion that if the situation is not one of utopian democracy then by default autocracy prevails. Of course the reality of leadership is, in the language of Blanchard, 'situational'. If the building is burning down the office don't sit down to discuss the best way of evacuating - somebody dictates orders. But if a bunch of highly gifted jazz musicians are jamming together it may be difficult for someone in the audience to work out who the leader is. This is perhaps best expressed in the continuum offered by Tannenbaum and Schmidt (left). In the context of church there are very few scenarios that would excuse a leader operating at the autocratic end of the scale but that doesn't mean that the body therefore is as liberty to function entirely in the zone of self-definition. I really do hope that at every opportunity I afford the maximum possible freedom to those God has privileged me to serve with leadership.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Brand vs Dawkins

In so many ways this clip from Russell Brand's Radio 2 show last Saturday night is so much more than a comedian talking to a scientist, it illustrates the great paradigm shift of our times - from modernism to postmodernism. I'd love to know what you think of it - leave me a comment.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Beehives and the Church

It was Albert Einstein who famously said "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Of course Einstein wasn't a biologist but the point he was making is of huge significance across all disciplines be they scientific or philosophical. He was speaking (against the reductionist paradigm of his age) of the connectedness of all life - the complex and collaborative nature of life on Planet Earth.
The Beehive is a truly amazing thing, a special community with special relationship to the world around it. I do find myself thinking that there's something strangely ecclesial about it - even perhaps monastic. As the bees live out their rhythm of life the ecosystem around them is given life. Surely that's a picture of the church. And if we follow it to its natural conclusion we wouldn't want to turn the whole world into a hive would we? No, we would simply ensure that we are true to our vocation as those with a unique role in releasing the life-potential of the world around us.
So if the church disappeared off the surface of the globe how long would humankind have left?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007


I promise that my next blog post will contain some original thought before I do that there's another book quotation I really want to put up here:
'Most leaders are to some extent idealists. They have a desire for things to be different, to be better. Thus, the leader lives all the time with a discrepancy between the world that she wants (and others want) to inhabit and the world she (and others) actually do inhabit. Psychologists call this condition 'cognitive dissonance' - there is a discord between the reality and the ideal. Now, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this discord produces a certain mental and emotional strain in people. This can be constructive, generating passion, drive and energy; but it can also be destructive, producing frustration, disappointment and confusion. Accordingly, one of the mind's strategies to deal with it is denial and repression. Most people deal with cognitive dissonance fairly effectively simply by choosing to look away from the ideal. They come to tolerate the reality by avoiding the evidence, by filtering the data they receive. They fabricate a world in which the discrepancy is less.
The leader, however, is motivated by a desire to hold on to the ideal - indeed it is the ideal that drives her. Accordingly she commits herself to a journey that will inevitably lead her into a dissonance between the reality and the ideal, a tension that she refuses, until she gives up leading, to deny or suppress. Unfortunately, most other people don't want to know about this tension: they are in the business of denial and they don't want to be reminded of how bad the reality is or how much better the ideal is. They prefer blissful ignorance - and the leader, in all the evangelical fervour of her vision, is a fly in the ointment. And so the leader finds herself pursuing the lonely path that all prophets and visionaries down the ages have followed - of being isolated, being a voice crying in the wilderness, travelling alone, ahead of the crowd, on the margins, in a distant land - feeling a sense of belonging but also a sense of alienation.'
From Leading Out of Who You are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership
by Simon Walker

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chasing the fox

Random things happen to me. Quite a lot. Take the weekend for example. I found myself in Oxford, browsing secondhand bookshops with a guy called Andrew Jones (aka TallSkinnyKiwi). If you're into books, Oxford is the place to be, and if you need a recommendation, TallSkinnyKiwi the the guy to ask. In the basement of the Oxfam bookshop on St Giles Street he found me a little gem - Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship by Lesslie Newbigin. Those of you familiar with my blog will know that doubt and questioning is a recurring theme. Andrew and I had never met before but I think he must've sussed that I'm a bit of a questioner and so pushed it my way. I'm only one chapter in at the moment but every line has been sweet - check this out:
'Questioning can go on forever and lead nowhere. There are always fresh questions which can be asked. Asking questions can become an all-consuming passion which can never be satisfied, for which any claim to know the truth is a kind of treason against the intellect. A recent writer has wittily suggested that there is a parallel between this certain kind of academic tradition and fox-hunting. The whole point is the chase; if the fox is caught the fun is all over, and we have to look for another fox. Surely, the asking of questions is a vital part of our encounter with reality. But reality finally encounters us when we have to answer the question put to us by the incarnate logos: "Who do you say that I am?" Similarly, one hopes that one day the hunter is confronted with the cruel reality of hounding a fox to death.'

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

On the importance of tents

I'm pretty sure that my most quoted verse in the whole bible is John 1v14. It's the fulcrum of history. Eugene Peterson offers my favourite rendering of it, "The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood." But you don't need to know more than very basic Greek to recognise that all the various translations are paraphrasing a root noun that basically means tent. According to John, when Jesus appeared on the scene it was as if God was, 'pitching his tent among us.' So it would seem then that the humble tent now becomes a pretty important New Testament image (as indeed it was in the Old). However, it was only yesterday, doing some prep for a talk on the subject of worship that I came across this in Revelation chapter 7v15: "he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them". Same writer using the same metaphor. He clearly knows exactly what he's doing.
The importance of tents then? Well, don't you see? If the incarnation was merely a pitching of God's tent among us, what we can look forward to eschatologically is that great day when we will be fully enveloped within the tent of God. And even for someone with a deep-rooted loathing of camping, that sounds very cool indeed.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Five Act Play

"Imagine that a Shakespearian play is discovered for the first time but most of the fifth act is missing. The decision to stage the play is made. The first four acts and the remnant of the fifth act are given to well-trained and experienced Shakespearian actors who immerse themselves both in the first part of the play and in the culture and time of Shakespeare. They are told to work out the concluding fifth act for themselves.

This conclusion must be both consistent and innovative. It must be consistent with the first part of the play. The actors must immerse themselves in full sympathy in the unfinished drama. The first four acts would contain its own cumulative forward movement that would demand that the play be concluded in a way consistent and fitting with that impetus. Yet an appropriate conclusion would not mean a simple repetition or imitation of the earlier acts. The actors would carry forward the logic of the play in a creative improvisation. Such an improvisation would be an authentic conclusion if it were coherent with the earlier acts.

This metaphor provides a specific analogy for how the biblical story might function authoritatively to shape the life of the believing community. Wright sees the biblical story as consisting of four acts - creation, fall, Israel, Jesus - plus the first scene of the fifth act that narrates the beginning of the church's mission. Furthermore this fifth act offers hints at how the play is to end. Thus the church's life is lived out consistent with the forward impetus of the first acts and moving toward and anticipating the intended conclusion. The first scene of act five, the church's story, begins to draw out and implement the significance of the first four acts, especially act four. The church continues today to do the same in fresh and creative ways in new cultural situations. This requires a patient examination and thorough immersion in what act four is all about, how act four is to be understood in light of acts one through three, and how the first scene of act five faithfully carries forward act four."

Michael W. Goheen expounding one of Tom Wright's ideas in Reading the Bible as One Story

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Don't look back...

This week I was in Oxford checking out a Theology course that I'm considering bringing to Manchester. Sitting in on a lecture the following thoughts occurred to me... Why do we have a habit of reading our bible's backwards? So many people, when looking for models of how to live well for God look backwards. And why not, after all the majority of the bible's content is set in the past. But why is that past recorded for us? Is it there to show us how to live now - or does all that history actually serve a different purpose? I'm increasingly convinced that the story of the bible is a progressive revelation of what I'm beginning to refer to as 'the ultimate dream of God'. All of the bible is anticipating a future perfection that is far beyond the scope of our imaginations. In the same way that the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the King the New Testament anticipates his Kingdom. Here's a practical example: Slavery can easily be justified 'biblically' by reaching backwards in the book - but it's impossible to make a case for it when you look forward and get a glimpse of what God has in mind for his creation.

I wonder how many of the issues that Christians argue over would become irrelevant if we could all get out of the bad habit of looking back...

PS - I'll post something tomorrow on Tom Wright's 'Five Act Play' that will help explain this a bit more clearly.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bring Back God

One of the 'fleshly' appetites I have to try hard to keep in check is my love of designer clothes - I'm not into flash but I really love quality and I have some brands that I'm pretty loyal to. This is now compounded by the fact that fashion is an industry not exactly renowned for its ethical record - right now as I speak GAP are reeling from recently being busted (again) for using factories that employ child labour. But check this out - a designer with not only an ethical but also a spiritual conscience! London based Katherine Hamnett made her name in the 80's with those oversize T-Shirts saying 'CHOOSE LIFE' as worn by Wham. As with everything in fashion what goes around comes around but in the last 25 years the cultural goalposts have shifted. The new range of slogans include the superb 'BRING BACK GOD'. Her website describes the idea like this:
"Why isn’t there just nothing? Nobody knows how life started. Darwinism is just part of the answer and all other possibilities have to be considered equally valid including a supernatural one, including a creator. The right to believe in a God is one of our civil liberties."
So will I soon be cleansing my label conscience in one of these organic cotton tees, printed in the UK with water-based, environmentally friendly printing inks? Not at £40 a pop I won't!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The 'Bait and Switch'

Working in an evangelistic ministry like I do one issue that's frequently considered is that of 'follow up', or my preferred way of describing it 'follow through' (subtle but important difference). However neither of these concepts are likely to have much chance of success if the original evangelistic 'pitch' in any way involves a bait and switch.
What's a bait and switch? Well, imagine you get a mailing through your door telling you that you've won a free holiday in Ibiza. All expenses paid, first class flight and 5 star accommodation included - all you have to do is sign and return the enclosed letter of acceptance and then turn up at a hotel somewhere near where you live to meet a representative of the company who'll explain the rest to you. Yep, its a scam. We see it being played out on Watchdog every week. A naive young couple are gutted when they realise they've actually signed up for life to a timeshare apartment on a building site down a dirt track 10 miles from the sea. But the parallels between this kind of corporate con trick and contemporary evangelistic preaching are scary. One of the main reasons that 95% of the people who respond to an evangelistic message don't go on with God is because they quickly realise they've been stung. Someone promised them peace with God and freedom from guilt and they woke up the next day to find they're lumbered with a lifetime of hanging out with wierdoes on a Sunday morning singing strange songs and listening to long winded lectures.
So what can be done about it? Well whilst it's important for church leaders to ensure that their congregations are welcoming, caring environments the onus is really on us the evangelists. The day of selling individually packaged grace deals without any reference to the conditions of the contract is over. The message must change. Christianity equals community. Belief necessitates behaviour. We evangelists need to grapple with this and find fresh inspiration so that we might reveal the true nature of life in the risen Christ, joining an epic journey with a rag-tag bunch of pilgrims who are determined to see God's great dream for the world fulfilled.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Belonging then and now

Following on from my last post I thought it might be a good idea to insert the quotation from The Missional Leader that got me thinking about this in the first place:
"In the time of Tertullian, someone wanting to belong to the church had to go through a rigorous period of training focused on behaviour (how daily life was actually lived). In other words, to belong to the community of Jesus, a person was mentored in practicing change in habits. Today leaders talk about the need to create a safe, non-threatening, low threshold of belonging in order to draw people into the church. Note the two radically different ways in which the same language is being used. These approaches suggest contrasting sources of understanding. In the latter case and in our contemporary context, the source of this thinking is not theologically, biblically formed imagination but the latest marketing strategies that come from polls and studies about what people are looking for when they join a group... Tertullian's primary concern as a leader was formation of people around a specific set of habits and practices that came out of his engagement with scripture."

The quote is from the beginning of Part 2 of the book, which is probably the place to start if you're gonna read it.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Belong, Believe, Behave

Travelling over to Budapest last week I was reading Alan Roxburgh's 'The Missional Leader' - not a great book to be honest but it did prod me towards the following little rev... For years now I've heard people talk about 'Belong, Believe, Behave' as a summary of the process of becoming a Christian. I first recall Mike Pilavachi using it about 10 years ago. He spelt out the way that most churches insist that young people are required to first behave, then believe at which point they might be allowed to belong. Along with many in youth ministry my work has involved trying to reverse that process, with the least important bit being the behaving - after all, "teenagers eh!". How crazy then that I'm only now coming to see that this isn't a process at all. These are 3 incredibly important factors in anyone's Christian life, whether just starting out or approaching the finishing line. We all need to be part of a community of faith (belonging), we all need to be animated by personal faith (belief), and we all need to act in accordance with our faith (behaviour). How could I have overlooked the behavioural dimension of faith for so long? After all, 'Faith without deeds is dead.' Let's never confuse authentic Christian behaviour with how we act in Sunday worship; how we behave in that context ought to pale into insignificance when compared against the witness of our daily lives.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A story of two gardens

I've been thinking recently that the story of the bible is in many ways a story of two gardens.

In the first garden (Genesis 3) we find a man and a woman playing the blame game and going through the pain of dislocation from the one who gives meaning to their lives. They are sent out of the garden disgraced and disillusioned.

In the second garden (John 20) we find a man and a woman. But this man treats the woman very differently. He wipes away her tears, removes her shame and restores her to her purpose. She is sent from the garden rejoicing. Go and tell of the victory... sing Miriam sing... God has made a way through the sea, the time of slavery is over!

It's not surprising that the apostle Paul calls this man in the second garden the 'last Adam'.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Soul Survivor or Body Believer?

Its relatively easy for most people to accept that they have a soul that will survive death and go to heaven - who wouldn't want to believe that? And after all, the animating energy of life itself is a great mystery that keeps us guessing about where it comes from and where it goes when glowing flesh becomes rotting corpse. But for the evangelist concerned with communicating the original Christian hope (rather than its modern Gnostic variant) it's a hard sell to persuade people that our present bodies will at some unknown future moment be reconstituted to enjoy a new eternal life in a renewed cosmos. Perhaps that's why I don't think I've ever, in 30 years of being around a whole range of church meetings and evangelistic events, heard an evangelist promise resurrection. Yet I hear them promise eternity in heaven all the time.
Related to this I wonder if hope may instead be found in the practice of full immersion baptism. Above all else it's a statement about the death, burial and resurrection of the whole body. Let's get real, if we believed that the body is just a temporary shell we could indicate the presence of a soul waiting for collection in other ways, such as a sign on the forehead, a cross would be appropriate. But the authentic Christian hope is not that we will be soul survivors, rather the body is of great and lasting value in God's eternal order. But like I say, it's a hard sell.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Forrest Gump Christianity

Forrest Gump was an endearing character and when the film came out in 1994 it took the world by storm. It won 6 oscars (nominated for 13), it had a top selling soundtrack, it tapped into something. Yes, he was slow, simple and made sense of the world around him through his mothers childish proverbs. But as Forrest Gump blundered through life amazing things happened to him and he did amazing things.
And that touches us deep inside.
Because we yearn for simplicity in a complicated world.
We shrink from the responsibility of being grown up.
It’s comforting to believe that we’re OK as we are, that we don’t need to change, that good things will happen to us because we’re good people.
And so we can make a nice comfortable theology for ourselves by plucking verses from here and there; that we don’t need to worry because God clothes the flowers of the field, or that we must simply come to him as little children, or that his house has many rooms and one day he’ll come and take us there… but who are we trying to kid? Jesus did not live a Forrest Gump style existence! Neither did he appear on the earth as a finished product - an all-knowing rugrat revealing universal mysteries at the Bethlehem mums and tots group. He needed to grow into all his human potential just like we do. The bible says that he, "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men." (Luke 2:52) Later it says that "in all things" we need to "grow up into him". (Ephesians 4:15)
No matter how much we want our growing pains to come to an end we should just think first what it really means to stop growing... it means we start dying.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Anatomy of a Stronghold

It started with a thought.
'We can change it.'
It became an atmosphere of optimism.
'You know what, maybe it will happen soon?'
It took on a focus.
'If we can do it there it will prove it to everyone!'
It turned into action.
July 4th 1789, The Bastille, Paris. The epitome of absolute royal power.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

We're often faced with full blown strongholds in life but how often do we pay attention to a stronghold under construction? If we look carefully at the words of the apostle Paul we can see that he gives us all the phases of the building process from start to finish. First there is the thought. The thought is processed into a pretension. The pretension is augmented into an argument. The argument solidifies into a stronghold. A stronghold is nothing more and nothing less than an entrenched belief that 'This is the way it is and it could never be different.' But like a mathematical equation that negative principle works out in its the positive too. All it takes to overthrow that stronghold is a thought. A thought that spreads an atmosphere. An atmosphere that finds a focus. A focus that inspires action. Action that proves, 'Oh yes it can!'

For more on this subject I recommend Paul Scanlon's Anatomy of a Stronghold audio series.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Vive la Revolution

History is one of those subjects that is very dependent on a good narrator. One guy who fits into that category is the comedian Mark Steel. I just read his book Vive La Revolution and as well as making me laugh lots it also made me think too - especially about church. You see, around 200 years ago when the revolution was gaining momentum as a movement, groups, caucuses and personalities began to emerge who would shape the future of the French nation and indeed of the world (if you consider the French Revolution to be the paradigm of all modern revolutions). The thing I consider to be significant is that none of these political groups set out with a vision of what their particular club ought to look like. They were all far more concerned with giving their attention to higher things, namely the new world order which they believed could be created and was worth fighting for. And this is where church leaders ought to pay attention. Growing their membership was not the aim. Neither were their activities an exercise in proving the primacy of their pattern of belief over the other variants on offer. For them recruitment was just a necessary step towards their goal of social transformation. Similarly, fulfillment for an individual member was not found in convincing another individual to believe and join the group, it was that they would draw all those around them suffering the same oppression into the action of removing the old order to establish a new world built on a totally different set of values.

I really think we should be spending less time thinking about church growth as an end in itself and more time devoted to sharing with people the amazing Christian vision of what life would be like if the kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of our Lord.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Me and my shadow

I don't know if it's just part of being human, or of being thirtysomething, or simply being me, but introspection seems to take up a lot of emotional energy. I seem to be forever self-examining and self-critiqueing. If this sounds a bit familiar to you too then you'll know that the tendency is not to dwell on your good points but your bad points. Why is that the default setting? I was just considering this and began thinking of it as a fascination, or even an obsession, with my own shadow. How weird would that be? But then I thought - shadows get bigger the further you are from the source of light. Maybe if I could concentrate on getting myself closer to that light I wouldn't have as much shadow to explore.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Turning the tables

Prompted by a conversation I had in a coffee shop the other day I've been thinking about the story of Jesus getting mad with the money-changers and traders in Jerusalem's temple courts. The writers of the four gospels all give us slightly different perspectives on the event and therefore the variations in the text offer shades of meaning. But going beyond the words into a bit of architecture takes us even deeper. The key thing in this story may well be not simply what the traders were doing but where they were doing it. I don't know a lot about the Temple but I know this, the spacious outer courts were known as the 'Courts of the Gentiles' and according to the Law unless you were a full-blooded Jew you couldn't get any closer than this in your desire for connection with God. How significant then that as he violently throws over the tables Jesus shouts out the words of Isaiah 56, the classic prophecy relating to God's desire to welcome foreigners into his presence, which of course contains these wonderful words, "my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
I've never considered before that Jesus wasn't simply embarking on some puritan vendetta against the sharks and the charlatans; he was reclaiming worship space for the foreigners, he was making a statement about the way the practices of those who are already in the in-crowd impact those who are still trying to find their way in. The anger was a venting of holy steam - God's own desperation to receive the worship of the seekers and the wanderers. The challenge to us today is are we still building temples of exclusion? Are we cluttering the outer courts, the fringe space in which those hungry to know God can come as they are without discrimination? God forgive us if we are.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Is God bad?

OK, in most of my posts I adopt a fairly gracious, reflective posture carefully avoiding absolute statements. This one is different. This is a rant. I write in response to terrifyingly misguided 'Christians' who have somehow got it into their heads that the floods currently hitting England are in some way the judgment of God coming upon us in the 'End Times'. To such people I simply ask,
"Was the judgment of humanity's sin at Calvary not enough? Does God need to complete the work of Jesus on the cross with a bit of bad weather in Tewksbury?"
Get a life.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is God good?

For quite a while now I've been struggling with large chunks of the Old Testament. By struggling I mean finding it hard to engage with passages of scripture from my 21st century perspective, for example the amount of wanton and apparently God-sanctioned or even God-initiated violence. So on the whole I've buried my head in the gospels and hoped that I might be able to just ignore all that stuff. But of course it's impossible to ignore all that stuff as one of the amazing things about the bible is the continuity of it's meta-narrative and for better or worse those ancient tales make up a large part of it.
The other day I was challenged to re-engage with this stuff and to see what deeper examination of the text might reveal, so I did. So far I've just looked at the first 7 chapters of Joshua (one of the most bloodthirsty books) and guess what I found... Prior to embarking on the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Jericho the zealous Joshua has an encounter:
"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." Joshua 5:13-15.
Fascinating. Bible scholars pretty much all agree that this incident was a christophany. And what message is delivered to Joshua? "I'm not taking sides here OK." And then he goes on to remind Joshua of the sanctity of the world in which he has been granted leadership responsibility. Even more fascinating then reading on to chapter 6 when: "the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men." (v2). Er, did you hear that Joshua? According to the rules of engagement your army may put to the sword the enlisted men of the city, but who mentioned the women and the children? The NIV tactfully translates the genocide of the city as a 'devotion' to the Lord. Interestingly chapter 7 begins with God's anger burning against Israel because of the 'devoted things'. I'm no Hebrew scholar but seems to me that this incident is not at all what it first seems. What truth is hiding in that opaque language? I'm now wondering how many more of these Old Testament stories may have similar undercurrents? I'll do some more digging and let you know what I find.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The Big Fight: God vs Satan

I don't typically spend time thinking about the devil at all but just recently, maybe triggered by reading Paradise Lost, I have been. For a long time I've been baffled by the obvious mismatch between God and Satan. The God we meet in the bible is eternally all powerful and all knowing whereas his adversary is a jumped-up celestial being of limited power and influence. So why is the world so in thrall to his charms? I've come up with a possible answer. Imagine you're involved in a game of chess with a grand master. The grand master adheres to the rules fastidiously but you completely disregard the rules every turn and in doing so manage to give the impression to the audience (who don't know the rules) that you're doing quite well.
The golden rule in the celestial chess championship that is our world is that of free will. God has given it to us and will never take it away. Satan, in total rebellion against God, couldn't care less about our free will. Ever since the misty days of the garden he's been dead set on decieving and manipulating the human psyche. No wonder we see such chaos around us, no wonder so many people have warped and twisted ideas about God. But hey, the game's not over yet and despite his endless cheating Satan's never going to win.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Going deeper

Following my post yesterday about the Black Box I was encouraged to come across this from Tom Wright in his devotional commentary on Ephesians (4:17-24):
"You won't understand where behaviour comes from unless you understand the state of heart and mind. And you won't change the behaviour unless you change the heart and mind. This isn't what many people today expect to hear. There is a persistent untruth which has made its way into the popular imagination in our day: that Christianity means closing off your mind, ceasing all serious thought, and living in a shallow fantasy world divorced from the solid truths of 'real life'... But the truth is that genuine Christianity opens the mind so that it can grasp truth at deeper and deeper levels. This isn't a matter of university degrees and paper qualifications, helpful though they may be. It's a matter of the heart and mind being open to the even wider range of insight and imagination that comes with 'learning the king'."

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Black Box

Over the last few weeks I've doing a lot interviewing for the vacancies we're looking to fill within our organisation. I find it an exciting undertaking because of my overarching belief in God's sovereign ability to steer and guide individual destinies. As I've sat down and listened to person after person describing themselves and their story I've realised that there are two kinds of Christians. The first group relate the journey of their lives in a strange sort of shorthand saying things like, "...and then God told me to go to Birmingham." The second group have noticeably different language opting to interpret the twists and turns of their lives by recognising the hand of God through certain circumstances or relationships. I've decided to call the first group the Black Box group, I don't know what to call the second group yet.
So why the Black Box? Well, the Black Box is a virtually indestructible bit of equipment carried on aeroplanes to ensure that all the vital communications and measurements from the journey are recorded. The contents of the Black Box (actually they tend to be orange) can only be interpreted by a trained expert using special equipment. This relates to the more general use of the phrase 'Black Box' as a way of describing any kind of process that gives the impression of happening beyond the limits of observation or analysis.
My faith journey over the last few years could perhaps be described as a movement out of the first group and into the second group. I don't want to be too quick to slap the label 'GOD' onto everything that has the appearance of being slightly coincidental or spooky. Indeed by choosing to investigate the deeper causes of happenings in my life I want to begin to get to know God better - but it's not easy. Whilst part of me is excited by the Psalmist's aspiration "Show me your ways" (Psalm 25:4) another part of me feels a bit awkward following a "did God really say?" (Genesis 3:1) train of thought. I suppose ultimately it's the motivation that matters. By that I mean that I have no desire to rationalise all potentially divine activity, rather I want to connect with the reality of God at the deepest level. To do that I know I need to get inside the Black Box.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Paradise Lost

On Saturday I had a bit of a splurge on books at my local cheapo bookstore. For less than £20 I got 3 awesome collector's edition hardbacks, the stunning photo-bio U2 by U2 and a pair of stunningly illustrated classics, Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost. I've spend the last few days flicking through all three but it's Paradise Lost that's really got me hooked. The weaving together of fantasy and theology with unsurpassed mastery of the English language is just pure honey. Each of it's 12 books begins with a short burst of prose hinting at the poetry about to unfold. The ideas encapsulated in these little preludes ooze with spiritual significance, just check this out from the intro to Book III:
God, sitting on his throne, sees Satan flying towards this World, then newly created; shews him to the Son, who sat at his right hand; foretells the success of Satan in perverting mankind; clears his own Justice and Wisdom from all imputation, having created Man free, and able enough to have withstood his tempter; yet declares his purpose of grace towards him, in regard he fell not of his own malice, as did Satan, but by him seduced. The Son of God renders praises to his Father for the manifestation of his gracious purpose towards Man: but God again declares that Grace cannot be extended towards Man without the satisfaction of Divine Justice; Man hath offended the majesty of God by aspiring to Godhead, and therefore, with all his progeny, devoted to death, must die, unless some one can be found sufficient to answer for his offence, and undergo his punishment. The Son of God freely offers himself a ransom for Man: the Father accepts him, ordains his incarnation, pronounces his exaltation above all Names in Heaven and Earth; commands all the Angels to adore him. They obey, and, hymning to their harps in full quire, celebrate the Father and the Son...

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Meeting Dawkins in the Betting Shop

I just spent the last few hours reading a little book called Deluded by Dawkins? A Christian Response to the God Delusion. It's well structured and moves at quite a pace through Dawkin's varied complaints and arguments. It dismisses those that are irrelevant, contends with those that are and acknowledges common ground where it exists. After eliminating the various diversions and the angry rantings Andrew Wilson reduces Dawkins arguments into 4 categories but having read these they seem to cluster more naturally into 3:
1. Evolutionary science - the subject Dawkins knows best. Sadly Darwin's observation of natural selection occurring in the world around us does not do a good job of addressing origins and neither does his disciple. 2. Biblical accuracy / errancy - the subject Dawkins knows least. Here we go off piste because whether the bible is true or not is important for Christians it has not bearing on whether or not God exists. A God other than the Christian God may exist. 3. Philosophical logic - a matter best approached with a certain amount of objectivity - which Dawkins as a fundamentalist atheist entirely lacks. I found this final section of the book the most interesting as I think its this area in which proper dueling can be done...
Wilson agrees with Dawkins that when it comes to explaining our existence there are 3 (well 2 and a half) main options available: A) An eternal God created us (whilst not inferring a literal Genesis interpretation) B1) We are the result of infinitely improbable coincidences or B2) The 'Multiverse' theory - which, put simply, suggests that our universe exists like a bubble in a bath of universe-foam made up of billions of other universes. This is a development of B intended to significantly increase the probablity of life emerging (whilst straying into the rather wacky implausibility implicit in A)
It seems to me that at the end of all this we find ourselves in a great cosmic Betting Shop. In the Red corner we have some kind of divine personality and in the Blue corner we have the biggest foam party you could ever imagine. We're left to choose which is the most probable of these two mind-blowingly improbable alternatives. Who are you backing?

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

God On Mute

The book I've got on the go at the moment is God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Greig. I love Pete's outlook on life and faith and as he's an absolutely fantastic writer to boot I'd have probably read whatever he published even if it was called Lard On Toast. But the fact that he's writing about prayer - specifically unanswered prayer - makes me even more hungry to hear what he's got to say. I've heard Pete speak on a few occasions about the process of coming to terms with his wife Samie's brain tumour and his honesty has always been incredibly moving and motivating. That his home life was imploding just as he was being thrust forward as the figurehead of a rampant global prayer movement (24-7 prayer) seems an irony too cruel to bear. So having said all this you might find it a bit strange that I've chosen the following portion to quote, but here goes:
"Outwardly I tried to give an impression of stoic endurance, and there were times when I felt very calm. But I was also scared that Samie might die if I didn't pray enough, or if I didn't have enough faith, or if I didn't fast enough, or if I didn't bind some disembodied principality, or if I didn't repent of some root sin, or if I didn't strap her body on a stretcher bound for Lourdes, or if I didn't agree with Benny Hinn."
When I read those lines, which come after a whole chapter fraught with heart-break, I laughed like I'd not laughed in a long time. It was like a release valve letting out the pressure of my own doubts and fears, which a book like this inevitably leaches to the surface. Here's my point, and the thing above all else that I want to applaud Pete for, laughter is a spiritual gift. To be able to write a book touching on some of the most emotional and sensitive issues people will ever face, and to do so with a gracious, contagious smile is about as close to Jesus as you can get I think.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The artist and the art

I've been reflecting a bit on my trip a few weks ago to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and in particular on comments by Andy Goldsworthy that I came across in the gallery showing his work. He was referring to the relationship between himself and the art he creates. Apparently, depending on the outcome he has in mind there are three approaches he will take: 1) Work in which he as the artist needs to be physically present; 2) Work in which traces of his intervention as the artist are left behind; 3) Work in which he is exteremely careful to produce an effect that leaves the observer wondering if the art had simply created itself.

As someone who believes in God as the ultimate source of creativity I find these insights into the mind and motivation of an artist absolutely fascinating, I can't help but draw parallels with the divine designer.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rob Bell in Manchester

I don't think it's any great secret that probably the most significant new influence in my life (I nearly said in my Christian life then but I only have one life and it's Christian so let's just call it a life!) has been Rob Bell. Ever since seeing the first Nooma video a couple of years ago I've been through a hugely positive reworking of my faithscape. And how cool is this, when I Googled "Rob Bell Manchester" to find out the latest info on his forthcoming visit my own Amazon review of Velvet Elvis came out number 1!

Anyway, I need to calm down as I'll be meeting him next Friday afternoon and I need to not come across as some starry-eyed groupie. At the moment I'm just processing what I ought to say to him, apart from thanks of course. Any suggestions?

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Monday, June 04, 2007

The power of strawberries

Last night, at the end of a long and extraordinary week of running an event in the city centre, something happened to me that hasn't happened for quite a while. I had a panic attack. If you've ever been victim of a panic attack I won't try to remind you how awful they are. And if you're lucky enough not to be bothered by these waking nightmares but are a bit intrigued you can get the vibe by reading one of my previous posts on fear. I'm prone to a particular variety of attack known as an existential crisis - or more simply put - going eyeball to eyeball with death. Sounds like fun eh!
Anyway, the fact that the crisis happened (strangely triggered by a scene at the end of Doctor Who!) is not the point here. I'm writing because of the unique way I got out of it. After an attack I tend to be left with a residual creepy feeling for several hours or even longer. However, about twenty minutes after last night's judder I quite innocently opened the door to the fridge sniffing around for some comfort food. I took out a punnet of strawberries and took a bite. Wow! Total unexpected ecstasy! The intense freshness and flavour provoked not only a physical but also a psychological response. I suddenly found myself absolutely convinced that if I was really standing in my kitchen with my tongue drooling over the cool sweetness of a fresh fruit then that in itself is evidence enough that anything is possible... God, eternal life, strawberry fields forever, why not?

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

White Shadows

The most listened to track on my iTunes player is White Shadows by Coldplay. Like many of Coldplay’s songs it seems to resonate with an effortless spirituality but until today I’ve been pretty vexed as to what the lyrics are all about. My moment of revelation into this musical mystery happened in the Bothy Gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which features work by Andy Goldsworthy. Several photographs were displayed with the title Frost Shadows. In his own words Goldsworthy describes how he stands still with his back to the sun early on chilly winter mornings. Slowly but surely the sun rises and its rays begin to melt away the frost from the grass - apart from in the areas obscured by his shadow. The result is, in the words of Chris Martin, white shadows that sparkle and glisten.

Going back to the spirituality of the song, I think that it can be found in its brave exploration of human transience. Rather like some of the Psalms or the book of Ecclesiastes it is centred beyond the self, it reaches towards eternity for perspective. I don’t know why it never made a full release on its own merit – it’s much to good for album fodder.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

What kind of society do we live in?

As my wife's an architect she gets all sort of journals and periodicals sent to her through the post, which she hardly ever reads. But I find them absolutely fascinating - especially last month's edition of the RIBA Journal. The edition was entitled 'A Matter of Faith' and amongst its articles was a piece by a guy I heard at a conference about a year ago - Prof. Philip Sheldrake of Durham Theology dept. Pretty groundbreaking stuff really having a theologian published in a specialist professional journal - particularly when the profession in question is a subset of the construction industry (hardly synonymous with progressive spirituality). This month in the letters section there was a bit of an anti-Sheldrake rant - rather unfair really as he was contributing to the magazine as a non construction specialist. But that wasn't why the rant got my back up, no, it was this throwaway statement: 'we live in a secular society'.
It scares me that people can get away with saying stuff like this. Its just as misguided as saying Britain is a Christian nation. Britain is not a secular society. Russia under Stalin was a secular society. So was China under Mao. No matter how much you may loathe Thatcher or Blair neither of them chose to dismantle the mechanisms and institutions of faith in our nation (although on Blair's watch the most serious curtailments of faith praxis have occurred). No, we are a pluralist society - a patchwork quilt of ideas, ideologies and idiosyncrasies. As such we exist in a dynamic tension between equality and diversity the outcome of which is often: more of one = less of the other. For example, many people of faith are today feeling the pinch of legislation passed in the name of equality that in practice only serves to restrict their ability to live according to their diverse convictions.
Whilst Evangelical secularists (those familiar with its holy texts and deliberately active in converting others - as opposed to nominal secularists - those passively immersed in secular culture, thought and rites from an early age) would like to believe that they can arbitrarily claim a higher place in the social pecking order they fail to see either the true origins of their freedoms or what the true human implications of achieving their zenith might be. Living in a marketplace where ideas and opinions can be freely expressed and exchanged is essential to the thrill of being alive. These flagrant 'You and your ideas don't belong here' attitudes are the most churlish form of intolerance. Such prejudice towards (large) sections of society such as religious communities is hypocrisy in the extreme and borders on oppression. Those of us with faith need to be brave enough to name it as such.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Geez magazine describes itself as:
"A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable. A location just beyond boring bitterness. A place for wannabe contemplatives, front-line world-changers and restless cranks."
I'd liken it to the Whoopee Cushion of Christian periodicals!

Claiming to be an 'Experiment in Truth' and spearheading campaigns such as 'Make Affluence History' it's the perfect tonic for sacred souls who find themselves at the 'optimistically jaded' end of the faith spectrum.

Check it out - Third Way it aint!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sunshine on a rainy day

Today, with some mates from churches around Manchester, I got down and dirty doing a local Ground Force style project on a street in one of the city's really poor neighbourhoods (and doesn't my back know about it - ouch!). The weather forecast predicted a typical Manchester weekend - very rainy - so we all turned up with our Gore Tex expecting the worst. It wasn't long at all before the grey clouds overhead began to open up in a major effort to spoil our fun. It was at this point that the organiser of the project picked up the microphone that was attached to the little hifi system that had been bleating out groovy tunes and asked everyone to break from working so we could pray for the rain to stop. There were lots of people around including lots of local residents who were joining in with the effort. So yes, I was cringing. Big time. I just stood there wondering if God was really bothered whether we got wet doing the job or not. And then when the prayer was over I just zipped up my coat and got on with it hoping that the locals that the project was supposed be a 'witness' to would soon forget about it and not berate God later for failing to answer our prayer. Or worse, they might add this little incident to all the others in their mental file labelled 'Reasons Why God Does Not Exist'.
Except that literally within two minutes it had stopped raining and we even saw a little bit of blue sky exactly as requested. What a fluke! Except that about an hour later it all happened again... the rain started, Simon prayed, and the rain stopped. And then it happened again. 3 lucky strikes?! We took a break for lunch and then Simon had to leave to do something or other elsewhere. Not too long after lunch the heavens began to open again. Aha! No Simon now so no more crazy commanding of the elements. Except the foreman, Des, also a passionate follower of Jesus took on the prayer challenge. Once again, within a minute or two the rain abaited and we were able to work without getting soaked. Then, probably just less than an hour later those pesky clouds had yet another attempt at keeping us from our task. This time Des grabbed the mic and announced, "Quit what you're doing for a minute, Matt is going to pray for the rain to stop!" The thing is, by this time my faith had been so totally stoked by the 100% track record that I took the mic and did pray. I took a deep breath, looked at the sky, thanked God for the favour he'd shown us all day and then claimed blue skies over Argyle Street. I kid you not, within 30 seconds the skies were blue. Amazing and utterly baffling! My head's spinning...

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beautifully Wretched (or Wretchedly Beautiful)

I'm continuing to crash on with Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical Here's a snippet from the beginning of chapter 9 'Jesus is for Losers'...
"The Gospel is good news for the sick people and is disturbing for those who think they've got it all together. Some of us have been told our whole lives that we are wretched, but the Gospel reminds us we are beautiful. Others of us have been told our whole lives that we are beautiful, but the Gospel also reminds us that we are wretched. The church is a place where we can stand up and say we are wretched, and everyone will nod and agree and remind us that we are also beautiful."

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eden is 10!


This is basically a blatant plug for the forthcoming conference I'm organising as a way of marking the occasion of 10 years of Eden. For those of you who don't know already Eden is a pioneering initiative involving the establishing of incarnational mission teams in Manchester's most challenging neighbourhoods. With a priority on youthwork but a holistic vision that extends to the whole community Eden has made a profound impact. The conference will consider the highs and lows of the journey so far as well as sharing wider lessons from the last decade of urban ministry in the UK with a watchful eye on the future.
Dates: Fri 6th and Sat 7th July
Venue: King's House, Manchester
Special guests: Floyd McClung, Dr. Martin Robinson, Pete Greig, plus many more
Costs: £50 or £35 unwaged
For more info click HERE >>>

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Longing for atonement?

Following on from my little discovery regarding the Linkin Park track Numb (see previous post) I think there's probably more to mention about this band. They're a really intriguing phenomenon. Some of their early stuff felt a bit like manufactured angryness and the videos and dress code also seemed a trifle 'attention-seeking'. But they've always had something special which now seems to be really coming to the fore. Take for instance their new single What I've Done, it's the latest in a long line of releases that revolve around the expression of a deep need to find a peace beyond the human condition. There are a lot of so-called Christian bands out there in secular space who would be scared stiff of writing a song expresing such overt spiritual angst - which may be why they never really get anywhere (the Christian bands that is, not Linkin Park!).

What do you make of it?
Read the lyrics here >>>

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Leper Colony

Every now and again you come across a life that is so bright and well defined that it makes your own life seem dim and shapeless. That's how I'm feeling reading Shane Claiborne's biography-of-sorts The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. As a student Shane found his faltering faith awakened in the company of a group of homeless families taking refuge in a derelict cathedral in Philadelphia. Before long his journey had taken him to work alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta and later to the war-torn streets of Bhagdad. Shane's gracious voice of provocation and challenge is especially poignant in his reflections on his time amidst the lepers of Ghandiji Prem Nevas:
"I learned from the lepers that leprosy is a disease of numbness. The contagion numbs the skin, and the nerves can no longer feel as the body wastes away. In fact, the way it was detected was by rubbing a feather across the skin and if the person could not feel it, they were diagnosed with the illness. To treat it, we would dig out or dissect the scarred tissue until the person could feel again. As I left Calcutta, it occurred to me that I was returning to a land of lepers, a land of people who had forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, a land haunted by numbness. Could we learn to feel again?"
I can relate to that. To me it sounds like a metaphor for the church - a place where those riddled with the leprosy of selfishness find a community in which they can start to feel again. After all, how anyone be a true Christian without the ability to feel?

UPDATE: I was just watching the video to Numb by Linkin Park and noticed for the first time that it's shot in what appears to be a derelict church. Are they on to something? Are they in cahoots with Claiborne!

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