Thursday, September 25, 2008

Opt In or Opt Out

I had a brief conversation yesterday whilst down in London. It went along fairly classic lines. My question: 'How can we get more missionally-minded Christians to move into council estates and inner city areas?' The response was all too predictable, a wearied frown and a small but perceptible dropping of the shoulders: 'But that's a very special kind of calling...'
The guy should've known better, he grew up on a council estate and is heavily involved in urban ministry with a very significant church. And he was talking to me. But we'd not met before so I didn't chin him.
I'm totally convinced of one simple thing; as long as ministry that impinges on our middle-class comfort is considered somehow 'special' we'll never see 'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.' As long as we keep acting as if the great commission (that pesky 'Go' thing Jesus said) is something we are expected to opt-in to things will never change. Basically the orientation is as follows: there's a lot of mess in the world and I should assume that God wants me out there in the thick of it unless I am given explicit instructions to the contrary.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

God's Politics?

The Labour party conference has been going on here in Manchester this weekend so all the Government bigwigs are in town along with a huge fringe of party members, lobbyists and general tagger-onners. Apart from causing me a fair amount of inconvenience trying to drive through the city centre on Friday evening it has given me the opportunity to catch up with an old mate who now works in Parliament.
It's been a long time since I've had chance to have such a deeply involved political conversation with someone who actually knows what's going on from the inside - my friend literally spends every day in the palace of Westminster meeting with MPs across all parties. One of the main circles of our discussion concerned the Labour party - the place where historically (in terms of culture and heritage) both our affiliations are found - but a party in which it is incredibly difficult to be 'out' about Christian commitment. For example, while David Cameron is busy courting the support of prominent Christian activists, particularly in the big cities, Labour's union base are busy villifying Joel Edwards upon hearing of his appointment to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Having just watched Charlie Wilson's War last night I find myself hopeful again that one man (or woman) in the right place, at the right time can change the outcome of the direst situation. I believe my friend to be such a man - God's man.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Small Ritual

Every now and again I find something on the internet that is jaw-droppingly cool. Yesterday I was having dumb fun generating geeky pictures of myself (not hard) at Today I was simply letting my eyes dance and my mind race as I flicked through the pages of Small Ritual. It basically combines two of my favourite things in the world: kick-ass graphic design and forward-thinking Christian faith. Bookmarks at the ready...

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Big Bang just yet... but give it a few days....

So despite many idiots out there on the Manchester roads I made it to work safely today. What a relief. And I also avoided being sucked into singularity at the speed of light. Yes, the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) deep below the Swiss Alps was revved up at 8.33 our time without creating a Black Hole. Phew. Although saying that they haven't actually collided any protons together with 'cataclysmic force' yet. So maybe the world will end next week instead.
One of the things I love about this story is that the journalists reporting on it clearly don't quite know what to do with the basic premise of the experiment. What I mean is, the media with its overwhelmingly secular worldview likes to report science as solid reassuring fact. But the reason £5 billion has been spent on this Scalextric track on steroids is that there is actually a heck of a lot that science still can't tell us about the universe we live in. Now don't get me wrong, I don't roll with the 'science explains all this and God explains the rest' crowd, all that achieves is a shrinking God as science advances filling in more of the gaps. No, all I'm really happy about is the welcome reminder of the essential mystery that remains at the heart of everything, 'Dark Matter' and all that invisible stuff that scientists believe in even though none of them have actually ever seen it or even detected with their clever gadgets. Sorry, I mustn't mock but hey, who knows, maybe in a few weeks the headlines will tell us that they've finally observed the wrly dubbed 'God Particle'. And hopefully we'll all still be here to scratch our chins and wonder if that will get us to work any quicker in future.

The universe around us is not what it appears to be. The stars make up less than 1 percent of its mass; all the loose gas and other forms of ordinary matter, less than 5 percent. The motions of this visible material reveal that it is mere flotsam on an unseen sea of unknown material. We know little about that sea. The terms we use to describe its components, "dark matter" and "dark energy," serve mainly as expressions of our ignorance.
David B. Cline, Scientific American, 2003

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Everything Is Spiritual

Binging. That word looks wierd when you spell it out doesn't it? Binge. Come to think of it that's not much of an improvement. Anyway, whatever the word used to describe it, today I may have had a bit too much Rob Bell. Now I know what you're thinking - 'Matt Wilson suggesting you can have too much Rob Bell?' Well no, you'll be pleased to hear that my Rob Bell groupie status is still intact. It's just that I'd taken a break from the spectacled wonder for a little while and now I'm realising again why I liked him so much in the first place.
Everything Is Spiritual is the name of the new DVD Rob has released, an hour and a bit of one man theatre theology produced off the back of his 2007 tour of the same name. I actually bought it because I thought it would be a great way to stretch the minds of some of our gap year trainees. Now having watched it (3 times!) I'm pretty sure it would just go right over their heads. The material in it is just superb - from theology to cosmology, blending observational humour with philosophy, bringing quantum physics to life with doodles and wisecracks... "because we all know how exotic leptons can be right?"
For everyone who worries or wonders about the shallowness or the narrowness of the arguments on both sides of the faith / science divide this really is a feast. For everyone else, well, there's a reason they don't stock this at your local Blockbuster.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Formation vs Information

On Sunday I took part in a TV debate about violent crime and what if anything can be done about it. It was pretty humbling to meet some amazing people like Angie Lawrence from Mothers Against Violence and Helen Newlove whose husband Garry was kicked to death only yards from his own front door by a gang of drunken thugs.
There was general consensus around a number of points such as the joke that we know as the British Criminal Justice system. Host Terry Christian seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about providing jobs for the unemployed in deprived communities. It's always hard to get a word in on these sort of shows so I had to wait for a chance to get a point in that wouldn't just be an echo of what everyone else was saying. That opportunity came when we got on to the subject of education.
One of the things I have concluded after years of working with young people is that lots of people are prepared to offer them information. We are after all in the 'information age'. Schools try desperately to fill young heads with facts that can be regurgitated later in the exam hall. If they're progressive they might offer specialisms in 'information technology'. I've sat in on council youth strategy meetings where Connexions and the Youth Service bleat on about frameworks for offering young people IAG (information, advice and guidance). That's all well and good but what about formation?
Formation is the development of deeply rooted character attributes, the shaping of attitude and the expression of human qualities such as empathy, forgiveness, compassion, patience, generosity and humour. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the only way to change our nation is to emphasise and maximise the formative potential of our social environments. The home, schools and colleges, workplaces, recreational spaces, faith communities, with a bit of re-imagination they can all begin to contribute to bring about the change this nation so desperately needs. It also happens to be an area in which those of us with spiritual insight ought to be able to provide real leadership.

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