Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Posts at New Blog...

My stats seem to be saying there are still a few people hanging around this blog. Good to have you here, but you can find all these posts, the comments, and some new posts on Missional Church, over at my new blog here.

Please do come and visit me there!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Easter ...

I have posted a new post, on my new blog, with an amusing story of Sommerfield supermarket getting their births and deaths mixed up ... and a couple of things to watch at Easter. Check it out ...

Happy Easter one and all ...

[and I have replied to some comments on The Most Hated Family in America]

New Blog Running

My new blog site is up and running ... and all the content has been transferred over. Comments are now closed on this site. If you want to comment on any post, please go to the new site. You can no longer comment as "anonymous", but you can use a pseudonym, so that your identity is not known. I will keep email addresses (which you have to add) private. For more info, see information about my blog.

I will no longer be posting at this site, so please transfer over to other site, which give added functionality. You can find info about subscribing (either by email or RSS); you can also get an RSS feed for comments if you want to track the conversations going on, or sign up to comments from a particular post by email when you leave a comment on that post.

If you have a link your blog, could you please update ... and if you don't why not?!? Seriously, if you would consider linking that would be great ... and let me know, and I will return the favour if I haven't already (unless of course you are some dodgy Swedish massage parlour ...)

I will post here a reminder for a while, each time I post on the new site ... but go change your favorite / bookmark / RSS feed / email subscription now while you remember!

A Happy Easter to you all.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Paying Non-Christians to Come to Church

I thought I would post a quickie today, following on from a great comment by Alastair on my previous post, The Most Hated Family in America, where he was saying we need to listen to the criticism of people who aren't Christians, and yet are the very people that church exists for ...

Jim Henderson, founder of Off the Map, pays people who aren't Christians to come to church! And it isn't some devious attempt at conversion (somewhat surprisingly!). No in fact is a brilliant attempt at doing the very thing that Alastair is suggesting ... not mystery shopping, but mystery churching! Paying someone to come to church, to get thier honest feedback on what they thought about the experience.

And now Jim (currently a Christian) and Casper (currently an athiest) have written a book about thier experience of visiting a number of different churches in the US, called Jim and Casper go to Church. You can read the introduction here, and the first chapter where they go to Rick Warren's Church, Saddleback. It is an illumitating and fasinating read.

HT - Dave Faulkner

The Most Hated Family in America

Tonight on BBC 2, Louis Theroux produced a documentary on the Phelps Family, dubbed the most hated family in America (you can see some highlights here). The Phelps family, with patriarch Fred Phelps, essentially make up Westboro Baptist Church (with only one non-family member, Steve, that we saw on the program, who had been a journalist doing a program on the Phelps, and then joined them!). The family and church are fundamentalist, anti-gay, anti-America, pretty much anti-everything.

The family picket funerals of soldiers who dies in Iraq (a sign of God's judgement), other churches (they hate gay people enough), and even a store that sell Swedish hoovers (don't ask ... oh OK, apparently the Swedish authorities arrested a pastor who preached against homosexuality). It is a hate-filled, rules based, grace-less religion that seems so far removed from all that I know of God, Jesus, and the Christian Faith. There is nothing in common that I have that with this group ...

Or have I?

Louis Theroux, in his disarming and yet penetrating way, gets beneath the surface. He makes a couple of penetrating observations of the Phelps family, that rings some bells for me in other segments of the Christian Church, and my own life ... albeit in a less extreme form:

1. "In their world, being hated is proof they are doing the right thing ... they preach a hatred, that is reflected back on them, confirming them in their beliefs."

We may not preach a hatred like the Phelps. We may not be so angry or judgemental. But don't we sometimes think too, that we are oppressed or marginalised? We are the ones being sidelined by the society we live in. By people at work or college. By our neighbours. Doesn't our society increasingly hate Christians? Or hate what we stand for? And we justify ourselves by saying that it is clearly a sign that we are saying God's word, that the world can't accept it.

And yet we don't often to stop to look at why they might not be liking our message. Just maybe it isn't the message, but it is the way we saying it ... just maybe we have a little anger and judgement in our voices ... and that is what the world is objecting to?

Of course there will be things that the church has to say which won't be popular. But isn't it easier to point the finger at others, rather than examining ourselves? And doesn't Jesus have something to say about that?

2. "If you preach that the world is full of condemned sinners, the world will begin to take that shape."

We may not use the same language, but Louis makes the point well: what you look for, is what you see. If we expect to see evil and lawlessness, then that is what we will notice. The acts of kindness, the love, goodness, humanity of others ... we tend not to notice those things, when we expect to see something else.

In fact, I think Louis is saying something more: the way we see the world, will actually shape the world in that way. If we see the world full of condemned sinners, then that is what we actually call up in people. If we see people as image bearers, even if we are broken image bearers, then something of humanity and goodness will emerge.

What do you think? Do you think it is just what we stand for that the our society seems to be rejecting or do you think we bear some responsibility for? And how do you see the world?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Blog Update

Last week has been a busy week, and I haven't posted much, or responded to comments as quickly as I would like. Sorry about that folks.

Amongst other things I have been taking my blogging time in setting up a new blogging platform (Wordpress) which I will have up and running in a couple of weeks (you can check it out here, but please don't leave any comments there yet!). I will transfer over all the posts and comments from this site at some point, so all our conversations won't be lost. I hope it will be a better site for keeping track of all the different discussions going on. More info on that to follow, and I will let you know when I have fully set up and transferred to the new site.

The next two weeks I am not going to be online much, and at points I will not have internet access. So I might post another one or two posts during this time, but may not reply to comments as quick as I would normally like to. Full service will resume on 16th April!!!!

Thanks for making this an interesting place to learn together.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Guidance in Community - Part 4

See previous posts:
Guidance in Community - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Models of Guidance.

As I have been reflecting on guidance, both individual and in community (which I would argue is not nearly as different as we often make it to be), there are three pictures in the first few chapters of the Bible that can help us think about different ways in which God leads or guides people.

Noah (Gen 6):
God directed Noah specifically, with very precise instructions on how to build the ark. It was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high, with 3 decks, a door in the side ... and
the ark was to be make of cypress wood, with pitch on the sides and top. No detail left out. Clear, concrete direction. The world was very corrupt, a flood was coming, crisis looming, and so God was very specific with Noah in how he could escape the coming devastation.

Abraham (Gen 12):
Abraham was to set out on a journey, that would take him from Haran to Canaan (his father has already travelled from Ur). He was to leave his country, his people and his father to go on this journey. Abraham got to Canaan, and they carried on travelling, knowing the God was promising the land. But a famine came, so they moved to Egypt.

In this story, we see a direction that God was calling Abraham to travel in, a promise that the land would be theirs, but no real specifics about how that would happen, when, or where exactly Abraham would go. When circumstances change (no food, always a good motivating factor!), Abraham responds and travels to Egypt where there was presumably food, but was actually away from the land that God was giving him.

Adam and Eve (Gen 2):
In the story in Genesis 1 & 2, we don't read of some specific instructions of how to do something, or a clear direction for them to travel, but more general tasks that they were to do: care and tend the land; be fruitful and multiply. There were boundaries, the 4 rivers marked a very large area of the "garden", but within that area they were free to roam where they like. All they had to do was to fulfill the mandate God had given them, stay within the boundaries ... oh and not eat the fruit of a certain tree.

So here is the crunch:

I think in church, we often have a model of guidance that is based on the picture of Noah. We wait for a specific "word" from God, what it is God is wanting to build, expecting a very clear answer of what it will look like. If you are given the type of wood, the dimensions, the layout etc, we have a very clear idea of what it is we are building. God is an architect, and we do His bidding.
When people talk about vision, I often think that this is what they are talking about. They want to know what it looks like. They want to see the artist mock up, or the computerised graphic, so they can see what it looks like when we are all done. Clearly God can and does guide like this, but is it really the norm? Or is more when in crisis or immaturity?

Some of us are moving towards a journey model of guidance, and I was suggesting this in post 3, reinforced by some brilliant comments in that post. There is a direction in which we are travelling; God is calling us towards something, a promise, a hope. But we don't really now what that will look like, and there are often things on the way that cause us to change direction for a while, or respond differently. God is an explorer and we are travelling with Him.

But is the picture in Genesis 1 & 2 an aspiration for redeemed humanity? Before sin entered the world (and aren't we being restored to the garden, and a bit more as well?), Adam and Eve walked with God. They knew what their task was, but they had real freedom to choose where, when and how they would accomplish that. There were boundaries, things that God has laid down, outside which they weren't to go, and a tree they weren't allowed to eat from. But within the garden, they could go and do pretty much what they liked. God would be with them. God is a Father, bringing us to maturity and setting us free.

Rather seeing the Noah type of guidance as the goal, perhaps we should aspire for the Garden of Eden model? Or is this unrealistic in this life? Is this just an excuse for doing what we want and asking God's blessing on us? Or are there different types of guidance needed in different situations, or perhaps at different stages of maturity in Christ? As less mature Christians does God give more specific guidance, and more mature we are free to choose? Or is that just a cop out for being less dependent on God as we get older?

What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Slavery - breaking not rattlling the chains - Update

Amazing change website have amazingly changed! David McNeish, our guest blogger, had forwarded his article (that I have posted in the last two posts - part 1 and part 2) to them a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday he got an email from them saying they have ammended thier actions points to incorporate some of Dave's suggestions. Here is what David said in this email to me:

As you might already know, a couple of months ago I got a bit miffed by the website that accompanies the film Amazing Grace - the story of Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery. The ten suggestions for action were, I felt, a bit limp. Thousands of folk will see the film and visit this website. What a missed opportunity! At the time I was preparing a sermon on consumerism and discovering for myself that slavery was, if anything, worse now than in Wilberforce's day.

So I wrote a little pamphlet. Not something I've done before, but I thought - I'm no expert in this, but I know we could be doing so much more. So rather than moan I thought I'd do something about it. And having written it Iain Archibald encouraged me in my tentative suggestion to send it to the production company behind the film.

So I did. Within an hour I had a response saying they were grateful for the feedback. Good public relations I thought, but I wasn't holding my breath for anything to change.

Today I found out that they have in fact changed the "10 things you can do" as a direct result of my feedback.

Specifically it now includes:

  • encouraging sacrificial, sustained financial giving to help end slavery
  • getting educated as a consumer, buying responsibly and communicating with corporations that you expect them to clean up their supply chain
  • pray with perseverance until slavery is ended
  • persevere - stay in this fight for the long haul

You can see the new list here.

I never imagined that one of my many rants at how things could be better would turn into tangible change! Slavery has not been abolished, but I am convinced that the changes help in a small way, to encourage people everywhere to do something more effective over the long term to eradicate this evil. One little person with limited understanding and a desire to be part of the solution…

Slavery - breaking not rattlling the chains - Part 2

Following on from Part 1, which I posted yesterday, here are some suggestions that guest blogger, David McNeish, makes about how we can make for real, sustained change to the ongoing slavery that many find themselves due to poverty:

The following are some suggestions for change that are curiously absent from the website.
Pray - this was the silent powerhouse that fuelled abolition 200 years ago. Can we really say we don't need it now?
Give sacrificially- not just a few pounds in response to an emotional film, but sustained ongoing giving. It is only the starting point though- charity is not enough. We need justice.

Reduce consumption - we need to stop demanding cheap goods, and start demanding total abolition of slavery in all its guises. See here for more information.

Campaign - there are so many things needing done – here are just three practical examples, with links for further information on each of them:

  • Sustain pressure on the UK Govt to implement the Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which they recently signed. Whilst the signature is a success, it is meaningless with out action to prevent people trafficking. See Anti-Slavery Website.
  • Buy fair trade chocolate - the relationship between consumption and slavery is very complex, but with chocolate it is clearer. Only fair trade chocolate guarantees that slaves were not involved in your treats. You can also write to the major chocolate companies asking them to tackle the problem. See here or Not for Sale Website.
  • Call on Government to support a currency transaction tax – this would curb damaging international speculation on currencies as well as generate revenue to fund international development to tackle the root causes of poverty and slavery. See here. To find out your MP and contact them see They Work for You website.

Commit to the long haul - Wilberforce was not popular, he was told tackling the problem would cause economic ruin. That argument hasn’t changed! But justice can and will prevail. God did not specify geography or give time limits when he said:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”
Isaiah 61 v1

Please note there is an update on the changes made to the Amazing Change website. See here for more details.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Slavery - breaking not rattlling the chains.

Update: The Amazing Grace website has changed! See update for details.

Today the film Amazing Grace is released in the UK (we are thinking of going as my Mum is staying so we have a ready made babysitter!). This Sunday is Amazing Grace Sunday, where churches all around the UK remember the work of
William Wilberforce. In light of this, a first for my blog, I have a guest blogger, David McNeish who writes:

Amazing Grace is a new film telling the powerful and compelling story of Wilberforce's determined campaign to abolish slavery. On the 200th anniversary of abolition there is much to reflect on and learn from in that story.

It is therefore a great shame that the accompanying website and 'campaign', Amazing Change, whilst providing compelling case studies, says so little of any substance to help address the issue today.

Its ten points for action lack efficacy. Watching a film, discussing it with friends, starting a blog - these are easy things but are only of any worth if they lead to action that secures lasting change. Otherwise we end up discussing how to tithe herbs and neglect justice.

In terms of securing change the website offers signing a petition, to be presented to unspecified governments at undetermined times. It also suggests writing to your congressman - of limited value to the thousands of people outside the US who will watch the film. Or you can attend a youth rally and shout 'freedom'. This is far more likely to result in losing your voice than in gaining justice for the millions in slavery.

Of greater concern is the misguided endorsement of partners helping to tackle slavery. This includes links to some English local authorities and the Royal Navy. Whatever work the Royal Navy may be doing in tackling slavery (atoning for past sins?), it is not clear from the weblink. Instead their site seeks to recruit young people in to the Armed Forces - a curious priority for an antislavery campaign.

It may be worth asking WWWT - What Would Wilberforce Think?

A further source of disappointment is the failure to connect our own actions in Western society with both slavery and slavery like conditions.

'Poverty is the new slavery' Jim Wallis

Poverty is the breeding ground of many evils, including slavery. The actions and inactions of Western nations in both causing and failing to alleviate extreme poverty were brought to prominence by the Make Poverty History campaign. Much remains to be done.

And on an individual level, we may not be a Cabinet Minister or a CEO of a multinational company, but our lifestyles compound the problem. Our demand for cheap products, for luxury and comfort necessitates others being enslaved to produce them - whether directly, as in the slavery which props up cocoa production in Côte d'Ivoire, or indirectly in the slavery like conditions resulting from, for example, the poverty caused by cash crops, deforestation or polluting factories. Here workers are effectively enslaved by low wages and terrible conditions to produce goods that no one needs, instead of building houses, schools and hospitals.

In the 19th century the people of Largo, a village near St Andrews, resolved to boycott sugar and rum. Why? They said they were "denying themselves the indulgence of delicacies that are prepared by cruel stripes". They made the link between their actions and the slavery of others.

We need to change our lifestyle, ask others to do the same and ask those in power to use that power for the good of all of God's children.

Part 2 tomorrow - Some suggestions for action.
[More on Guidance in Community next week]

David McNeish is part of Community Church Edinburgh, and works in the area of social policy. He has from childhood been passionate about justice and poverty, and when he preaches in church, these are topics that are never far from his lips!