Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Predictable Programming

I got an email today from a London based production company who've been commissioned by Channel 4 to produce a programme which will form part of their 'faith' output. In and of itself this isn't a particularly unusual thing, I run some fairly well known youth projects so I get TV companies knocking on the door about once a month. The tedious thing is that their pitches are so predictable, and this one was no different. The idea was yet another reworking of the the number one concept I get approached with (which they all seem to think is soooo original) namely, to create a show in which young Christians talk about why they choose a lifestyle of sexual abstinence. It's as if sexual abstinence the defining feature of the lives of young Christians.

So as you may have already guessed I'll be getting back to them to say I won't be able to offer them any inroads to connecting with young Christians for this programme. However, what I do intend to do while I'm at it is to suggest that they wake up to the kind of things young Christians are doing that most other young adults up and down the country are still virgo intacta about; stuff like: getting involved in relieving urban street crime, campaigning for an end to human trafficking and saving their pocket money to sponsor children in the third world.

Stereotyping sucks but it's never going to change until some enlightened soul in a production company somewhere dares to break away from this predictable programming to create something truly insightful.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The 'Jade Complex'

Ok, I admit it. The last few nights I've been tuning in to watch the lastest installments in the Celebrity Big Brother saga. Last night was eviction time and as many predicted Jade Goody got her comeuppance. For me the post-eviction interview with Davina McCall was the really intriguing bit. Jade, who'd clearly had some kind of tip-off from the producers took an unusual stance in her own defence, it went a bit like this: "I'm disgusted with what I've just seen... [ref. clip of herself bitching about Shilpa] but that wasn't me... that person talking wasn't the real me." What exactly does she mean? Is she claiming to suffer from some kind of Jekyll and Hyde complex? Will we discover later that Jermaine Jackson craftily hypotised her? I'd like to suggest that she's demonstrating a personality trait that's becoming quite common in our post-modern society - stick with me now, this is going to get deep...

The 'Jade Complex' (!) is a subconscious psychological filter, a type of denial deeply rooted in the individual's drive to survive. The mirror of self-reflection is fogged to the extent that an individual is rendered blind to their own actions and deaf to their own words. It's a dualistic twist in which the self-concept ceases to rely on external information and refers only to an internal construct formed of complex emotional coalescence. Taking all this into consideration it makes perfect sense that a 'sufferer' of the 'Jade Complex', when presented with video evidence of a misdemeanour, would claim "That's not the real me." Subjective reality has begun to overrule objective reality.

Yes, I know, I'm just flexing, but I don't think my proposition is entirely fatuous. This is basically about that thing we call 'character'. Someone once said to me, "Character is what you are in secret." I quoted that for years. Then more recently I realised, of course it isn't true, unless you're a victim of the 'Jade Complex'. Yes of course character (or lack of it) will be a determining factor in the integrity of our private pursuits, but character can't be confined to the closet. Character is the activator of our potential, the force at work directing our words and actions at all times, in public and in private. Character is the executive officer of the will taking responsibility for all our behaviour, both noble and base. This week Jade has shown the nation how much she needs to develop her character, and I'd be a fool to say I don't need to do that too. What about you?

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Our 3 journeys

About 2 years ago I came across a concept called 'LifeShapes' in a book called The Passionate Church, by Mike Breen. The book was written in a way that would naturally appeal to anyone with a picture-oriented mind like me. One of the images that's stayed with me was a reflection drawn from the lifestyle of Jesus in Luke 6:12 -19. Imagine an equilateral triangle drawn on a page, the top points Up, the left points In and the right points Out. Up refers to our relationship with God, In refers to our relationship with each other and Out refers to our relationship with the wider world around us.

Well, a few days ago I just found a very similar concept being used by an emerging church group in Australia (right), which appears to have been developed entirely on its own with no reference to Mike's book. I find this really encouraging because it shows me that God is working around the world revealing his ways to people who put their trust in him. The way a certain revelation is understood and communicated may differ, after all any illustration, whether visual or verbal, is just an imperfect attempt to grasp a truth. In this case we have two perspectives on a single simple reality - we need God, we need friends, and we need to reach the world.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dying for a conversation

This new ad from Kleenex makes me really jealous. I'd love to have that gift of being able to sit down and just connect with people. Anybody. Maybe the ad is staged using clever actors (some of my friends think so). Maybe it's for real (the gullible fool in me wants to beleieve this). Either way it doesn't really matter - the point is that the art of conversation seems to be dying. I wonder if that's why blogs are becoming more popular these days? Here I am, wanting to talk so I just type some thoughts into the screen and come back tomorrow to see if anyone might have responded, just a little one liner to make my day and remind me that somebody out there affirms my existence!

If I was brave enough (and if it was July not January) I might drag a sofa into Piccadilly Gardens and erect a sign saying, TEACH ME TO CHAT! I'd ask passers by to share with me the Tai Chi of conversation - how to get it started - how to keep it going - how to wrap it up. But who am I kidding? I've become far too safe for all that nonsense... the house is warm, the keyboard is convenient and somebody out there in cyberspace might just want to talk back...

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The sacraments of daily life

Sacraments are conduits through which the mystery of God's grace can touch our lives. Historic Christianity has formally recognised and practised a range of sacraments including holy communion, baptism, confession and marriage. Recently I've starting becoming aware that there is a way to live daily life which can have a profoundly sacramental (note the lower case 's') dimension to it. Things I currently find revealing God's grace to me are not the things I've been traditionally taught to practice. For instance I often feel closer to God in the brief but sincere prayer of thanks my wife and I share before mealtime than I do in a set 'devotional time'. I have found feeding my baby boy his milk at bedtime and stroking him to sleep develops greater intimacy between me and my heavenly father than the most energetic of worship events. And strangely, I have been finding blogging to be as much a revealer of divine truth to me than most bible reading programs I've ever used.

What are your daily sacraments?

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Church through the eyes of a cartoon family

I imagine most of you will have seen one or two episodes of 'King of the Hill', it was shown on Channel 4 for a while. The cartoon originates from the creators of Beavis and Butthead and much like The Simpsons it parodies American culture and family life.

Today I came across this episode on YouTube, it's about the Hill family's search for a new church (after falling out with the leadership of their old church!) Just click to watch it - it's so well observed that it's both hilarious and scary at the same time!

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Loneliness of Leadership

Yesterday I finally got round to visiting 'Another Place', the art installation by sculptor Antony Gormley just north of Liverpool docks. Crosby Beach is a rather grim place to be on a drizzly January morning but I was well prepared with many protective layers and I really tried to enter into the atmosphere of the place. For me, these cast iron men staring at the horizon reminded me of the loneliness of leadership.

Don't get me wrong, 'Another Place' is not a depressing place, not at all. In fact, the figures seem to evoke a spirit of resolve and even hope, but their isolation and vulnerability is inescapable. Yes, there are 100 of these iron men on the same beach but each one is so far removed from his neighbour that it is impossible to view the sculptures together as a whole, as a community.

The life God has called me to connects me with lots of church leaders, of all traditions and denominations, I'm on first name terms with at least a hundred and work quite closely with several dozen. It's quite apparent to me that the default setting for church leaders is 'fly solo'. Of course there are exceptions but on the whole spending time developing friendships with other leaders appears a fairly low priority. This state of affairs is actually quite strange considered in the context of the struggles which are par for the course in leadership. The tragic truth is that over the years I've known several who've decided to give up on church altogether. It was these leaders that I felt my heart going out to on Crosby Beach.

I often think about my own future as a leader and wonder if I'll eventually be swamped by the tide or slowly sink into the sand. It's a possibility that I think every leader should be realistic about, nobody can say "It'll never happen to me." And so I've made this my goal, to make myself know-able to other leaders and to try to build friendships that will last. In particular I've decided not to allow doctrinal differences to dictate my relationships. Above all, I must not fly solo.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Health and Faith

Continuing the theme of 'what is faith' I have another illustration to present - I have to thank Tom Wright for this one. During part 4 of his 'Future of the People of God' talks (back in 2004) he drops in a thought to assist the communication of his views on the authority of scripture, I'd like to reappropriate and expand on that thought just a little...

Think about the concept of health. Is health something that you can ever possess ultimately and irrevocably? You certainly can't possess it as a commodity or an object - you can't buy it or sell it or give it or steal it. You can't even be prescribed health by a doctor - the best they can give you is a drug which may or may not improve your health if you take it according to the instructions. And in all these ways and many more health is a lot like faith. There are ways we can live our lives to improve our health, environments that will work for or against our health, things we can consume which will either help or hinder our health. I don't think I need to push the point do I?

So, to bring this in to land, you may have experienced some mysterious moment when faith was given to you as a gift from God. Or you may have been fortunate enough to have grown up in a relational context where your faith was cultivated almost without your knowledge of the process happening. However you came to a first awareness of your faith, thereafter you have a responsibility to look after and 'work out' that faith. This is why I believe we need new forms of church that are based around a concept more akin to a gym than a cafeteria. In this new model of church our involvement will be more about getting stretched rather than getting fed. Is anybody up for that?

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

4 Wheel Drive Faith

Now don't read to much into this, but the first book I'm going to quote on this new blog is by liberal theologian Marcus Borg. I've been reading his 'The Heart of Christianity' over Christmas and finding myself being both aroused and affronted by it almost simultaneously. In keeping with one of my favourite maxims 'eat the meat and spit out the bones' I'd like to dwell on what's good about the book. Borg gives a great deal of attention to concepts of faith. He begins with a negative, "For many today, faith means... believing 'iffy' things to be true", but uses that to open up a superb series of insights. So what does he have to offer?

1) Faith as Assensus. This type of faith is the one most commonly practised by evangelicals, it is faith as defined by belief in a certain set of truth claims. Borg's point is that this is not the only type of faith, far from it. 2) Faith as Fiducia. This is a radical trusting in God, becoming relaxed in a deep knowledge that God is good and he is for us. 3) Faith as Fidelitas. This is love language, it requires us to be attentive to the relationship we have with God, and to honour him by loving the things he loves. 4) Faith as Visio. This final description of faith is about how we see the reality around us. True faith will not allow us to succomb to fear when considering the world we live in. Visio retains a sense of wonder at God's world and ought to profoundly impact the way we live our lives.

Let me share some images with you to bring these thoughts together a bit. In the last few years I've found that having a Christian faith based entirely on Assensus is rather precarious - a bit like making a journey by pogo stick. I'd encourage you to consider how you might embrace all these four varieties of faith. After all why travel by pogo stick when there's the opportunity to go four-wheel drive?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Evolution? Reincarnation? Resurrection?

Readers of my established blog Urban Faithscape will be aware that I recently threatened to commit blog suicide. And I did. Except I'm clearly not dead - I'm here. So 'Hi, happy new year!' What's happened to me in the transition from 06 to 07? In short, I've changed. Will you notice the change? I hope so - I hope it's a change for the better. Unlike Neo in The Matrix I don't seem to have gained any special new powers on this side of my resurrection, which is a tad disappointing. What I do have though is that new level of determination and focus that a new year brings. What am I determined and focused about? Simply this: to write a blog which is useful to people other than myself. Over the 18 months or so that I've been blogging it's been basically a cathartic exercise. I empty out my thoughts and, rather like Dumbledore with his Pensieve, stir them around a bit to try and make sense of them. This meant that Urban Faithscape became a highly eclectic mix of news and views (it's all archived so you can see for yourself). My desire for Faithscape 21 is to attempt to deal more consciously with issues relevant to 21st century people trying to live in a way that will make Jesus smile. I hope that lots of you will join me on the journey.

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