Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cold hearts, sick minds

I'm on a bit of a heavy train of thought at the moment. It may have been triggered by a TV programme I watched yesterday about the great Spanish artist Goya. In the latter years of his life, following his witnessing the atrocities of Napoleon's invasion, his work became very dark and grotesque. In particular I think I resonated with Goya's sense of hopelessness in the face of mans inhumanity to man!
The recent news story about the UN aid workers and peace keepers perpetrating child abuse has both incensed and depressed me in equal measure. I struggle to conceive how one human being can treat another in this way. How can a human hearts become so cold as to commit such acts? How can human minds become so depraved to offer no resistance of conscience? Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he told the crowds that anyone who says ‘Raca’ to his brother should be brought before the highest court in the land. That little Aramaic phrase simulates a retching of the throat prior to spitting – it’s an expression of utter contempt. And I do worry that this is where the headlines start, with the variety of ways and means through which even kids are taught the language of hate. At this point I’m reminded of the writings of De Touqeville, particularly his reflections on the newly emerging American nation:
“The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone.”
Because my job often takes me into the most deprived communities in the city I often see the seedlings of this kind of attitude. Some young people I meet will have a firmly rooted stance that everyone outside their inner circle is a nobody (and of course there are categories below nobody but you wouldn’t want to be in them). Sadly these young people are likely to be making their own headlines sooner or later, for all the wrong reasons.

And so, and yet, with all that as a backdrop, I absolutely love the gospel. The pure, joyous and just gospel of Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life so that a new community could be born. And I love being part of that community, the church, in which I can be held accountable for my attitudes and hopefully keep my own heart from freezing over. And I want that community to grow and grow, because I see little hope for the world if it doesn't.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wayside Pulpit

Driving around the city on a daily basis there are all sorts of things that catch my eye. Some of these things are clever, or beautiful, or original. Some aren't. In the second category are those gaudy, florescent signs found outside churches aka the 'Wayside Pulpit'. Just down the road from my house a new sign has gone up, bright yellow background with black writing in foot high block caps: "ALL WELCOME HERE" It's perhaps the most unwelcoming sign imaginable. And herein lies the problem. It's not just that local PCCs or whoever commissions these signs seem utterly unaware that technology has moved on to the extent that a full colour digitally printed poster would actually be a cheaper solution. No, there is a common tone of voice that seems present wherever the Wayside Pulpit is found.
I was driving down the A6 through Stockport the other day and saw a sign that must get at least 100,000 cars driving past it everyday: "JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS". It was classic of the paradigm within which all these posters seems to exist, US vs THEM. A line is drawn and rather than stepping over it in an outwards motion the slogans expect the reader to cross over and move inwards. The Stockport sign is a classic example. How different would the tone of voice be if the whole of 1 Tim 1:15 was quoted, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." Rather than emphasising to passing commuters just how different they are, SINNERS not SAVED, a message like this might just be able to build a tentative association... "YOU + US, we're not that different, we have stuff in common, it might be worth us taking this conversation further..."

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Information Overload

I've spent the past couple of days in London. While I was there I got chance to take a look at the Cans Festival 'Exhibition' which is just a short walk from Waterloo Station. It's the kind of place you could easily spend a whole day, but I only had about half an hour to spare so it was the briefest of glances. As you walk through the tunnel the colour, wit and propaganda leaps out from every painted brick. Most of the pieces in the 'fat end' of the tunnel were pretty large works, painstakingly executed. But at the far end, just beyond the bend and back in the daylight, was a whole patchwork quilt of smaller stencils, hardly a single square inch of the concrete was visible. I reckon there must've been a few hundred artists who'd gone to town on it. 

As I stood there taking in a 360 view I sensed my mind beginning to 'zoom out'. There was just too much information, it was too much to process. I started wondering if I was actually surveying not just a randomly assorted mish-mash of artists but actually a single, powerful, metaphor of the world we now inhabit. Our senses are struggling to cope with information overload. There are so many messages, so many voices demanding our attention. Yes there's a heck of a lot of crap - but it's such well packaged crap - how do we begin to discern the good from the bad, the worthy from the pointless? And perhaps most relevant to a blogger like me, if we feel we actually have something to say, how do we cut through the crap and get noticed? 

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dream Big, Live Small

Last week whilst he was with us in Manchester Shane Claiborne used a really catchy little phrase that I think I'm going to adopt as my own: 'Dream Big, Live Small'. My thoughts have been quite occupied recently with how I prevent my life getting 'bigger' year on year. I think this may be because last year was such a dramatic year of growth, which bugs me. Our growing family meant we moved from a little 2 bed apartment to a full blown 3 bed house, and in the process I bought a new car, which happened to be bigger than the old one (again a family thing, boot space etc). But basically I'm hoping that this is as big as we'll get. I'm hoping that the Wilson's have 'topped out' in terms of bigness. Indeed I'm even thinking about how I can take a benchmark of our current bigness (e.g. utilities used, recycling achieved, miles driven etc.) so that I can actually prove to myself that I'm not still expanding 2 or 3 years from now but hopefully contracting and reducing. 
Yesterday I was surfing from blog to blog, following the links to see where I'd end up and I stumbled upon a sort of cool, American emerging church type with a motto emblazoned on his header image: 'LIVE VENTI'. For those unfamiliar with Starbucks lingo it's the biggest size they do (20 oz / 600ml) - it's their equivalent of McDonald's Supersize (now banned I think). There was a photo of this guy, looking cool, not fat at all. It was then that Shane's catchphrase popped back into my mind. If Shane were to go all Starbucks on us tomorrow (which isn't likely to happen is it) that would mean he might start saying 'DREAM VENTI, LIVE SHORT' (short being Starbuck's smallest size). And therein lies a profound difference. 
If we're to live lives inspired and informed by the life and Spirit of Jesus we will indeed aspire to great things, venti things - but not for our own gratification. This isn't about my venti house, my venti car, my venti coffee, my venti anything! In an over-crowded, under-resourced world we should dare to dream venti dreams, like seeing wars end, clean water for all and trade becoming just. But we should also to take a long hard look at our own footprint on the world and ensure that we're not undermining our own aspirations with our default venti consumer lifestyles. Let's have a revolution of thought like the one brought about by the famous 1960 VW ad that flew in the face of the zeitgeist of the day and showed another way...

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