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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