Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When Jim met Jon

This dates back a couple of years but I'd never seen it before, it's Jim Wallis on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I reckon it's one of the best examples I've seen of a Christian communitcating to culture (with the exception of Bono's various public rants and prayers!). Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bald Britney

The sad demise of Ms. Britney Spears has taken another twist, she's gone skinhead. Britney's slide from grace has been story-boarded to us all through the cruel medium of the paparazzi lens - and it's been painful to watch. One of the things I remember about Britney when she first appeared as a pop star was that her kinky school uniform video didn't seem to fit at all with her virginal church-going interview persona. I wondered at the time why the faith she professed appeared to have no impact on the material she produced. Now I find myself wondering what sort of faith Britney had growing up - was it ever personal or only just part of middle-class Mississipi life?

The story of kids from Christian families deserting their faith in their teens and twenties has been acted and re-enacted over and over again. Now that I've become a parent it's becoming more relevant to me as I work through how to bring up my own kid. I've known two different seasons of difficulty in my faith life, the first in my late teens and the second in my late 20s / early 30s. At the age of about 15 I deliberately walked away from my faith, I thought the big wide world looked much more exciting that the strange little community I inhabited at the local church. I was right, it was far more exciting, for a few years. Eventually, having tasted pretty much all the world had to offer I found myself still yearning for something more. I found God again, or he found me, and it quickly became apparent that what I'd known as a kid was only a glimpse of the full life he desires to make available. Strangely, throughout those 6 years, much of which was spent in a drug-fuelled haze, I never stopped believing in God - that came later. From experience I can attest that losing your faith is more painful than the bruises you feel the morning after a street-fight. It's a deeper emptiness than attending the funeral of a friend. It's a blacker hole than a bad LSD trip. How I got there and how I got back is probably too much for one post so I'll tell you more about that another time. All I can say today is that looking back now I'm so glad I didn't have to deal with the consequences of my rebellion and the loss of my faith all at the same time.

I worry that Britney might be having to do that. I feel for her.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing Pains

There have been some pretty major headlines in the 48 hours, all involving kids. Firstly there was the publication of the major Unicef report which found that British children and youth fare worst amongst the OECD 'developed' nations against a wide range of quality-of-life indicators - they feel unloved, stressed, demotivated and are inured to the negative effects of casual sex and alcohol / drug abuse. Hot on its heels came the news of the third teenage gun homicide in the space of a fortnight in a South London borough. And then came maybe the saddest and most unbelievable story of them all - a group of women in Plymouth appeared in the dock on a charge of child cruelty after forcing a 2 year old and a 3 year old to fight each other for their entertainment. One of the women when questuioned by Police answered, "I didn't see any harm in toughening them up. I done the same with my own children."

In a bizarre kind of way part of me is glad that stories like this are in the headlines because every one is distress flare screaming for an urgent response. How long can we stagger around drunkenly as a nation without realising that our kids are not waving, they're drowning? I've been working with urban teenagers for the last 10 years so I already know that the sad blend of sarcasm and decadence we call our 'British culture' is a toxic environment for kids. However, I've never before felt that we're as close as we are now to reaching the vital tipping point at which people will start to say 'enough is enough.' If you have time watch the Newsnight special from Tuesday night - you can almost hear the clunk in Paxman's head as the penny seems to drop!

So what are the issues you think we need to address most urgently for the sake of the emerging generation?
Do you have any ideas about how we might be able to repair the damage that's already been done?

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Violence of Love

To continue the theme of my last blog entry I'm going to give space to the voice of a prophet who was promoted into the presence of Jesus by an assasin's bullet on March 24th 1980 - Oscar Romero.

It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts.
What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses: proclaims to the people God's wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God's reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws -- out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity.
This is the hard service of the word. But God's Spirit goes with the prophet, with the preacher, for he is Christ, who keeps on proclaiming his reign to the people of all times. (December 10, 1977)
The Violence of Love, a collection of Romero's outspoken words, is available from Amazon.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Prophetic Voices

I've finally got around to reading God's Politics by Jim Wallis. I must admit, attempting to read any book thicker than my bible sends a shiver down my spine but GP undisputably falls in that 'must-read' category. So far (about 1/4 of the way in) I'm finding it very dynamic indeed. Wallis' writing style is a bit more preachy than I expected but I suppose that's quite acceptable from someone who seems to have deliberately adopted a 'prophetic' tone of voice. And it's that 'prophetic' voice that I want to muse on for a few minutes...
For a considerable proportion of my Christian life I've been in circles where prophecy has a very specific meaning which I would define as this: Prophecy (noun) spoken word uttered by an individual round about 11am on a Sunday morning during a time of worship. O.K. that's being deliberately facetious but it really is an observation based on my (not inconsiderable) experience of the charismatic church. Contrast that then with Collins' understanding of what prophecy is: "Prophecy is not future telling, but articulating moral truth. The prophets diagnose the present and point the way to a just solution." Elsewhere he says, "The loss of religion's prophetic vocation is terribly dangerous for any society. Who will uphold the dignity of economic and political outcasts? Who will question the self-righteousness of nations and their leaders? Who will question the recourse to violence and rush to wars, long before any last resort has been unequivically proven? Who will not allow God's name to be used to simply justify ourselves, instead of calling us to acountability?"
Prompted by Jim Wallis, I think I need to dust off some of those pages towards the end of the Old Testament and take a fresh look at them. Can I discover what it really means to be prophetic? Can I find what Marcus Borg would call the "God-intoxicated voice of protest"?

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


One of the initiatives I'm enjoying being involved in at the moment is a Bible Society led venture called 'Unexpected'. Everything's going on behind the scenes at the moment but there will come a day (in May of this year) when all will be revealed. The objective is to kick-start a conversation right across the Manchester region about the bible, its role, its value and its message. At the heart of it all there will be a high profile media campaign encompassing outdoor and ambient media as well as a PR drive through the local papers and radio stations.

After having a nominal involvement throughout 2006, when this was first brewing, I've now been co-opted onto the team who are overseeing the creative process that will ultimately result in the origination, selection and execution of the campaign's themes. Over the last couple of weeks we've looked at street-level research that shows the pitifully poor grasp of the bible's content in the public mind. The most frequently recalled bible story from people questioned was Noah's Ark - a staggering 5% recalled that, about double the amount that recalled the story of the resurrection of Jesus!

So, in this context we've been skimming through bible stories to try and find those that we feel will have the greatest resonance with the proverbial 'man in the street'. At the end of the day the bible is about people's stories interwoven with God's story. Can we help people to see that (to paraphrase Rob Bell) 'It's not that the bible happened but that the bible happens'. My question to you is, if you could choose a story in the bible that conveys an aspect of real life in a way you think would relate to the average Mancunian what would it be?

P.S. Sorry but you'll have to wait until May to find out the ones we selected!

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