Saturday, 24 May 2008

The thin veil of solidity

I've often been drawn to this poem - no idea where I got it from.

It can be read on a number of levels. In the light of the recent events in China, we can't ignore its literal meaning - asking what kind of God could create a world so prone to such disasters.

I've always read it, though, metaphorically (maybe I'm reading into it) about those times when you realise the apparent certainties of life - those things you've built your life on - are not as secure or well-founded as was once imagined. I always thought about how God should have made the world and the Christian faith had he had a better mind - with no earthquakes and with clear, laid-down Christian dogmas and historically verifiable sacred texts. Yet, he didn't! Its all so much more vulnerable:

Though the mountains tremble:
and deep,deep, deep in the earth
rocks flow like water
in unimaginable heat that
changes their very nature
their molecular structure.
Below our feet. Below our
bended knees. One weakness
in the crust, the thin veil of
solidity, the illusion of soil and
rock. There is heat, flow,
currents of magnetism,
pulses of energy, while we
sleep and dream. One
weakness in the crust,
one fold, one slip, one fault,
and all that is solid melts into
itself, consumed by fire.
What world is this? Made
by what God, in what kind
of heaven enthroned?
The pulses stir, turn, twist
on themselves, seek weakness
meet resistence, move on.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Conviction / "I ain't woolly I am your brother" / Prophetic Voice

Here's two ends of a spectrum (that is perhaps a little microcosm of much of the 'conservative' v 'emergent' debate) - and confusingly I agree with them both - But "I ain't woolly, I am your brother" (The Hollies tune..? - come on)

A different way? This gets me thinking of the fearless prophetic voice that echo's through the Old Testament and particularly through Jesus' own words.

The voice that says confidently and clearly ..... that grace is more inclusive than we would allow, that justice is for all and the fruitfulness of creation is for all, that the kingdom is far more embracing than the short arms of religiosity, that the systems of guilt, debt and uncleanliness are not real ... that the lines are not ours to draw. That God is real, is here and is both opponent and judge of the oppressor and merciful father to the fatherless, that I am both the oppressor and fatherless, that I can be saved by, included and involved in this voice going out and speaking with conviction of truth that power needs to hear and mercy that the crushed need to feel.

That voice calls us to fore go the pinning down that limits and excludes but take up the challenge to prophesy and suffer in order to redeem an enslaved world - you know??!!

Treating church as a fetish

No this isn't about Gothic dungeons! - but if you were searching for religious porn and found this site - welcome!

Really its a V Interesting piece by Pete Rollins that I found really challenging (as he intended i think - see the follow up comments) and a good/difficult question about staying or going when it comes to trying to find a place/people to live out ones faith in. Well worth a read. If I ain't really engaging with 'church' - what am I doing?

I just ordered his newest book - The Fidelity of Betrayal - “In this work I make the claim that, in order to remain faithful to Christianity, we must be courageous enough to betray the bible (section 1), God (section 2) and the church (section 3). Why? Do I think that we must abandon them as redundant relics of a by-gone era? Do I think that they have served their purpose? Or do I feel that they prevent the world coming of age? By no means! Here I argue for a betrayal that remains faithful to these very words by helping us to re-discover the truly untamed, white-hot, life-transforming reality that they house.” Now that sounds like post provoking material if ever there was any - watch this space.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Bloom'in Marvellous!

If the good news is good news for all creation and if we are created to enjoy and care for all things then its no wonder 'Shalom'/Peace, Kingdom, Gospel etc, all the way through the bible, include the 'land'. However distant we may feel these days (post industrialisation, globalisation) from 'nature' we were created and therefore remain intricately and intimately connected to our planet. Ignoring that is kicking ourselves in the butt - global warming, deforestation etc etc etc.

Even more concerning is the fact that the very people who we are identifying as the primary beneficiaries of the good news, and those that we meet God in meeting the needs of - the outsiders, powerless, dispossessed and disenfranchised - are the same communities that these issues impact most (sub Saharan Africa, Bangladesh etc).

Here's a site that might help us act in and for our planet (that the bible clearly tells us is our responsibility) in a responsible way.

"Want to know what actions can have the biggest impact on your carbon emissions? Bloom helps you choose actions tailored to your home and lifestyle, then lets you compare them by how much CO2 they save, how cheap they are or how easy other Bloomers have found them."

And here's why!

Gen 1:26 God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth."

Hosea 4: 1-3 - Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:

"There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Check out the new features pic puzzle

New features up and running on engage blog - check out the site to find the 4 main new ones and match them to the photos. 1st correct answer via comments gets a (virtual) prize!

Monday, 19 May 2008

What you sowing?

James 3:17-18
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
Read this today and it seemed to chime with some of our current discussion about how the kingdom / peace (shalom) of God works as opposed to the Pax Romana (Pax Individualism / Pax Market / etc) works.
Its full of great adjectives that perhaps help take things from conceptual discussion to actual action in community, things that create an experiential distinctive about how we act

Adjective - The part of speech that.... limits, qualifies, specifies or distinguishes

So with the use of our power today we find it deliberately and consciously;
  • limited by grace
  • qualified only by grace
  • our actions specified to us by grace
  • our life lived and touching others distinguished by grace

I guess its a call to be 'christlike' when you look at it - its a wonderful description of the life he lived and that we are attempting to follow

So today - what you sowing!?
(to get the verse in context check out v 13-16 as well, as tony the tiger says 'there grrreat')

Sunday, 18 May 2008

In Search of a Metaphor

How do we understand our Christian faith? What's it all about? Lots of metaphors have been used to try to capture the whole thing. One of the most popular at the moment is 'journey' particularly in emergent circles. And journey is very helpful in lots of ways. It gets rid of the 'in - out' way of thinking of much traditional evangelicalism. It resonates with many people's personal experiences that feel more like a journey than a sudden 'epiphany' or 'decision.'

And yet, it doesn't capture the political or communal aspects of the gospel for me. It is just all far too individualistic for me. What about Jesus' metaphor of 'the kingdom of God'? Its very political and communal and as Jesus said it, no one dare argue. Is the fact that it is so political the reason it is so out of favour in contemporary Christianity?

'Kingdom' is quite literally 'empire'. It is the same word used of Rome's empire. Jesus is calling it the empire of God. Yet, empire has pretty bad associations for us. It smacks of exploiting indigenous people groups, insensitivity to local cultures. domination. Yet, I think this was Jesus' point. Maybe the phrase 'anti-empire' sums up more precisely what Jesus was getting at. Yet, it doesn't have much of a ring about it, does it? Anyone got any better suggestions?

The main point, though, for me is to understand our faith with the political and communal dimensions that Jesus' phrase had in mind. For me, the whole Bible is about the kingdom of God and its antithesis : 'empire'. Sin is not just personal, but systemic. It expresses itself in any means or method of exploitation or control. 'Empire' is just one of many examples of exploitation and control. It also exists in cultural pressures - women have been subjugated in this way. It exists in churches - with controlling leaders. The imperial urge is everywhere. In response the Bible envisions an 'anti-empire' - where there is no control, exploitation. The Bible imagines an egalitarian, horizontal, reciprocal set of relationships; and it attacks any form of cultural, political, moral, religious or social control. Jesus announced that this kingdom has come.

In Mark 10 Jesus attacks control in marriages. Then, the controlling power of wealth. Jesus concludes, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you."

I'm not wanting to knock personal and individual spirituality. Or, the whole after-life thing. I just want to redress the balance.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Meeting Jesus in the ghetto

'Meeting Jesus in the ghetto' is how someone put it once, but I can't remember who.

Nothing innovative about this, but the important point made in one of the comments about meeting Jesus when we engage with the underside of life reminded me of this:

Jesus said,

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me...

...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Friday, 16 May 2008

Down with the kids

You might notice a few enhancements to the Engage site over the next few weeks as we try and kick start things a bit. Check out the new chat facility - we will be trialing it soon with some live chat discussions on some stuff that we are kicking the tyres on at the moment. Feel free to have a play and go wild with discussions on whatever. Soap gossip is banned though H & Dee! :-) - seriously if you want to suggest any topics for us to wrestle with together on the Cbox then send them in by commenting on this post and we will get it kicked off.

In the mean time don't forget to get yourself an Engage RSS feed to your reader, mobile etc and if you are sitting there feeling old then hey come on -It's time to get down with the kids!

The World Turned Upside Down

Jesus radicals annual conference is coming to Sheffield. Who wants to go?

November 21-23 (my birthday on 21st - you can bring your presents along on the day!)

Christ Church Pitsmoor, Sheffield.

Blurb says:

"In a world where capitalism, greed, warfare, and political power have plunged many into injustice and oppression, what does Christianity have to say about these systems? Whether you are religious or political, neither or both, join us for our third annual conference in which we will explore, by workshops and discussions, how a dialogue between faith and Anarchism may be formed."

For more info see:

Artfull Answer to Art Question

Here is nakedpastor spitting his dummy a little but provoking some great thought about 'art' and how it happens in our faith communities

"The other day I received an email from someone asking how I would recommend incorporating the arts into the church and what steps could be taken. While I believe the question is one motivated by genuine concern, the only intelligible answer that might satisfy is one that must be given within the programatic and institutional paradigm within which the question was asked. This is the problem.

The question exposes the paradigm and presses for an answer that conforms to that paradigm. We must realize that the question rarely reaches beyond itself. The question normally asserts its present paradigm and is usually a dogmatic statement seeking confirmation disguised as intellectual interest. The questioner may be trapped inside a paradigm that the mind hasn’t dreamed must perish.

So the normal way to answer the question would be something like this:
First of all, get permission from the leadership to start encouraging the arts. Then maybe start an art appreciation class. Then maybe an art instruction class. Ask the pastor if creative elements can be added to the church service. This will involve some “creative types”. Request that the leaders allow art to be displayed in the lobby. Set up an editorial committee that determines which art is appropriate for church. Etc., etc..

Just shoot me! Let me show you a better way. The church is generally a censorious community. In this environment art is sanitized, tame and conformist. It is still art, but functions as a reinforcement of the system. Expression is controlled and edited from start to finish. This kills art because it kills creativity because it kills freedom. Instead, allow people to be free without scrutiny. (I even hate the word “allow” because it assumes it needs to be given when it is already ours.)

In due time, after people begin to realize that they are loved and accepted unconditionally, the creative spirit will surface and artistic diversity will abound. This is the harder but more genuine way. It means taking care of the roots. If the root is unfettered freedom, then fruitful and artistic living happens. It is the diversity of human expression of personality that makes the artful life. Until this is nurtured art will be repressed."

Maybe one of the outworkings of getting on and being and doing spirituality as Mark is suggesting might be an outflowing of Art in a redemptive and transformative way? Maybe this is one of those ideas that others might pick up - or maybe we have this in us already?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Getting down to it!

So we're clear about the vision, we know where we'd like to be - we'd like to be participating in radical action for justice on behalf of the disadvantaged. We'd like to do our spirituality in that context (if you haven't read "A vision for engage", read that first). But.... what are we going to do? How can we fit into our already busy schedules more things to do? We are a tiny group, what prospect do we hope to have of achieving anything?

We want to be a community of action, but we are in danger of being a talking shop. How can we move from where we are, to where we would like to be.

I like the way one guy sums it up:
"If you want change, do two things: clarify your ideas and get friends".

He was talking about Jesus, but I think it pretty well sums up what we need to do.

1. Clarify the vision. I think we're doing that now!

2. Get friends. Let's get seriously stuck into some networking - find out what there is out there that we can get involved in and find people who are like minded who can join us.

3. Let's be honest about what we are offering. We are a small group, full of ideas, but short on time and resources. Sometimes we'll be sharing those ideas with each other, knowing we can't possibly hope to put them into practice at present, in the hope that someone might. Is this the same as a talking shop? I hope not.

lets get down to it

Culture Jamming with Revelation

Culture jamming - transforming the images of mass media to provide satrical or ironic comedy in order to to subvert their messages!
The first one, admitedly, is a little too close to home!
I want to make a case for saying that the book of Revelation is an early example of culture jamming - certainly the oldest I know.
The urban landscape of the Roman Province of Asia where John was writing was littered with images - advertising, you might say. They were in people's homes, on street corners, in the gymnasium, in the banqueting halls, at public baths, on walls. Everywhere, through sophisticated and subtle use of subliminal messages these images saturated the consciousness of the people. Ring any bells yet?
These images communicated a broad message - Rome brings you peace and luxury. All you need to do is accept the empire and a bit of war in foreign lands and it will all be yours. And the message was incredibly successful. There were no Roman legions in the Province of Asia. It didn't need them. People acquiesed because they believed the message. How similar to the American dream - it promises freedom, wealth, higher standards of living, all you need to do is consume. The message is published on every road side, at 7 minute intervals on TV, on every web page. And the message is so successful that even now I feel the pressure to make the case for saying that actually buying products will not increase your happiness. Instead, our children are made anorexics and the poor in Indonesia are made slaves. And we just become increasingly dissatisfied by life, because the message tells us that we 'need' more. So, with feverish excitment we move around shopping malls with an apparent insatiability, and an urgency we wouldn't usually associate with leisure. And we call it 'retail therepy' when in reality its a fix of the shopping drug that never quite satisfies.
At the heart of John's approach to these images is to see their message as religious. John had no concept the enlightenment division of the secular and the religious. Or, the idea that the religious can easily be defined as that organised credal thing that now goes by the name of 'religion'. Religion, for John, was a set of myths that explain and give meaning. At the heart of these religious systems are icons / images that encapsulate these meanings. Coca Cola is our modern day fetish, as are the golden arches of McDonalds. The icons of the consumerist religion are everywhere.
Then john does a bit of culture jamming (or 'iconoclasm' as it used to be called). He takes these images and subverts them. One of the most important images was Roma - she represented the fruitfulness and prosperity of Rome - a bit like the Statue of Liberty represents the idea that America brings freedom. One of the most popular images was a picture of Roma slouched against the Rome's 7 hills and her foot touching the Tiber River. John subverts this image. He describes a whore sitting on 7 hills, and on "many waters", drinking the blood of the saints. This is what is really going on - says John - Roma is a whore, plying her trade with the world, offering them an illusion of love and sustaining itself on bloodshed. This is the truth behind the image.
Ring any more bells? Nike, plying her trade with the world, sustaining itself by slavery and offering the world an illusion of freedom and hope which it never delivers.
Who's up for a bit of culture jamming?

Monday, 12 May 2008

A vision for Engage!

Having chatted with Schof, here is a bit of an idea of what our vision for engage might be.

Here's the thing:

There's a couple of ways of being a Christian that have never seemed quite right to me - one is the 'meaningless babble' version. This is where Christians talk endlessly about abstract ideas that don't seem to relate to the real world. I must confess to having a certain penchant for pointless babble myself (as anyone who has ever chatted to me will know) and yet, not only is it unconnected to my world, it also doesn't quite fit with all that stuff in the Bible about justice flowing like rivers and taking up your cross and caring for the orphan and widow etc. There are people dying in Burma. There is poverty in my own city. There are people excluded. There is injustice. I can't change the world, I can't change very much, but being a follower of Jesus somehow must make me someone who is involved in doing stuff for the deprived and destitute.

But this just leads me to the other way of being a Christian that doesn't seem quite right - the social activist kind. They work with other Christian and non-Christian organisations to bring about change. They stand shoulder to shoulder with communists and anarchists and ecologists and social reformers. And all this is great, but soon biblical and theological language is forsaken and in its place is the language of class warfare or the language of sociology - sometimes with a Christian veneer, sometimes without it. Herein lies the problem : we become no different to all these other very worthy groups. And one has to wonder how being a Christian makes us any different or what God's got to do with it. I can engage in social justice without God very easily.

The vision is to bring together biblical reflection and radical action. It is about doing biblical reflection and worship and spirituality from the vantage point of those doing the practical justice-making. This spirituality both informs our justice-making and is formed by it.

Thus, it is absolutely practical. But it is also absolutely Christian. I may be wrong, but I'm sure this is what Christianity is all about - radical action for the sake of the poor and for justice, but distinctively arising out of our spirituality - a spirituality that feeds action and action that feeds spirituality.

Who's up for a bit of spirituality-fed action and some activity-fed spirituality?

Now, I know there are a lot of practical problems with this. What practical action are we going to do? We are a tiny group, surely we need more people? Aren't we in danger of just becoming a talking shop? These questions are answered in my next blog: "Getting down to it."

Make love not...

My second entry, not particularly innovative but -

Make love not ...war

I know Mark picked up some stuff at the 'Big Dress' event that SPEAK ran in Sheffield over the weekend re Direct Action and some potential action communities that exist. I think these peace Church guys do stuff as well - chances of 'a little less conversation a little more action' for us?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


This is beautiful

Its a conversation between colours and light

A continuous
and sustained
mutual discourse
The exchange and interchange of thoughts,
and feelings etc
Intimate fellowship or association

How do we have one of these between ourselves that is not mottled by fear but back lit by the spirit of truth and the unity of the spirit

I am not being airy fairy here

How do we learn to learn from each other without scrawling arbitrary lines across each page when we seem obsessed by delineation not harmony

But lets be honest, the colours need permission and place to exist
and then freedom to explore their latent potential for beauty as the collide or seep into one another

How do we create a pallet in our blotting paper communities where this is at least possible if not inevitable?

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Not sure this needs a snappy title to get you to read it

Why am I on a mega blog fest session tonight since i haven't posted for ages?

Because I've realised that without people prodding me and provoking me, without the inspiration and companionship of others on the journey I simply and most poetically...disappear up my own arse!

Hope that even in the tiniest way this stuff might just help protect you from the loneliness, boredom and sometimes slimy nastiness of your own analogous rectum.

If my mother ever reads this she'll kill me. Hey, God made bottoms mum

The Gospel According to Parkour - Do We.....?

Do we move through the world with creative, subversive grace?.. with lithe and fresh courage?.... throwing shapes that imbue beauty to ugly things? Perhaps as followers of Jesus we should - pop your eyes on this.........and be inspired to live in the same world differently

Here's a challenging one for me - do i/we redeem and transform the world as people see it, God in me/us and in our world, showing that the impossible is possible even in our weak body's, city's, systems, etc?

(Forget 'onward christian soldiers' surely this is a much better metaphor for today (just need someone re dub it with a decent tune and come up with some new words ? Anyone?))

Friday, 2 May 2008


Maybe Engage should do something with Maybe?

I really like the sound of this stuff and Ian and Gail (ex Sheffielders) where at Grace F last Sunday - even pics of it in the belly of the fish - read on to make sense of that -
I have just signed up for Ian's 'Morning Bell'

Check Ian's sites for more details and I'll post on my experiences of these early morning proper wake up and smell the infinite and immanent coffee type calls

"find a way into the monastic rhythm of prayer
create still space at the beginning of your day
pray with others around the world
discover the true ground of your being"

Make love not....

Lets play finish that sentence!

Here's my entry from the ever reliable nakedpastor -

Rd to emmaywhere?

Grabbed kindly from a thing on Jim Wallis& Friends blog - - great site if u not already rss'ed up with them.

"....two men walking the road to Emmaus (which may be tantamount to saying they were heading nowhere fast, considering scholars haven't been able to confirm the existence of an actual town named Emmaus - What an amazing metaphor for our despair in the face of suffering, and the difficulty of being reconciled to each other and God)

The two men meet a stranger along the way who asks them why they are aggrieved. Their response is to almost reprimand the stranger's cluelessness: "Do you not know what happened this weekend. We lost hope." To which the stranger replies with reciprocal exasperation, "Did you not know that the whole story has been driving toward this irredeemable act of shared suffering—the death of God—so that the unprecedented hope of resurrection might come?"

Debbie Blue says it this way:
Jesus is like, 'Fools and slow of hear to believe. Can't you see that this all had to happen: that the mechanisms of the social order that lead to violence had to be undone, the self-deceptive and ferocious need to make ourselves out as innocent, the rat race, the ladder climbing, the fear of a violent God who demands blood and vengeance? Can't you see that all that had to be undone? You're free! Quit holding onto the bars and rattling them. The cage doors are open; walk out.' Jesus comes back from a wholly different place than they've ever been, and he walks right up to them and he reveals a whole new story. [Yet they don't recognize it.]

He walks with them, and they stop just shy of nowhere. And Jesus doesn't lecture them, judge them, condemn them, dislike them. He doesn't express a sense of betrayal and disappointment. He doesn't talk about how hopeless and ugly the whole lot of humanity is. He breaks bread. And he feeds them. And he tells them to go out and preach mercy to the world.

He becomes present to these people, people totally caught up, as we all are, in the reigning social, political and economic structures, in order to help them see or live or feel an alternative—to help them die and live again. He becomes present so that little by little they will be enabled to walk out of the cages… So that they might be able to tell new stories instead of the same old predictable stories…

The bread has been broken and the bread's been blessed. It may not seem like it, but we're free to get off the road and eat."