Monday, 30 June 2008

Refining Schof!

Impossible as it might seem to refine Schof, here's my suggestion:

I'm really enjoying Schof's Banksy image idea - asking us to bounce off it. I think its a great idea... here's the slight refinement:

Can we make it lead to action?

Can we come up with some practical suggestions about what we should do about it?

They could be practical things to help the poor / those who experience injustice.
It could be symbolic acts that witness to justice or against injustice.

Dont forget to help us scratch yout itch

Love me so I can?

More from Blue Like Jazz p147
His mate Paul says (sitting on a roof reflecting on how it is to be human and married - how good and tough it is and how intimate relationships work for us and on behalf of God)
"To be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can't accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people. That is why God tells us so many times to love each other"

1 John 4 v 7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Twist your faith melons with Pete

If you want to twist your melons then this is a great interview with Pete Rollins - not started the book yet but will post on it when i do.

Who's to blame?

Who does America blame for the 9 / 11 attacks and for the insidious threat it represents to the American way of life? It can't blame the suicide bombers because they are dead. It certainly can't allow their own policies in the middle east to come under scrutiny. So, they find refuge in the age-old scapegoat solution. And such are the inmates of Guantanamo. Arbitrarily chosen - they represent the threat to the American way of life and on them the anger and fears of the community can be expended.
The biblical language of 'scapegoat' recalls the atonement when a goat was taken and the violence, fears and conflict of the community could be transferred to the goat, which was then sent into the desert.
It is a different kind of atonement language, though, than penal substitution. God does not expend his anger in order to satisfy his wrath, but human beings expend their anger to appease their wrath.
So Jesus, as atoning sacrifice for our sins, is the scapegoat for the world. This is not God expending his wrath on an innocent man, but human beings expending their wrath on God! It is God as scapegoat for the violence of the world.
Many would see this as nit-picking about abstract and irrelevant ideas, but I'm pretty sure it should make a radical difference to what we do. If penal substitution works from the premise that God is sometimes violent and that violence can bring salvation - then we can condone violence today and see violence as redemptive. Jesus, as scapegoat, though, works from the premise that the scapegoat is innocent and should be treated as such. It works from the premise that God stands on the side of the scapegoat to expose the scapegoating tendency and so bring an end to it. If that is true, we should do all we can to speak out against the 'punishment' of the innocent at Guantanamo Bay and the violence enacted on this scapegoat.
So, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

'At-one-ment' US Military Style - really...?!

This is a story Don Miller tells on page 33 of 'Blue Like Jazz' which I am reading at the moment:

"A Navy SEAL was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. The team flew in by helicopter, make their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard gasps from the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.”“The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them, Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.”

Banksy Bouncing #1 / Engage F2F 25/06/08

Engage F2F was a classic:

  • Last minute venue move to a good pub with great beer and mediocre puddings (it even had pews!)

  • Left the Culture Jamming to another time and went with the flow

  • Agreed how we all love/want 'searing honesty' - how it brings the best/reality out of us

  • Agreed that we want to be doing not just talking and batted round a few ideas

I really enjoyed it

So... we missed the culture jamming though we may come back to that if people are interested

In the meantime I am going to do a 12 week series of posts inspired by the idea of culture jamming and the way Revelation uses/subverts/invests common cultural stuff with new and prophetic challenge & redemptive hope. To do this I will be using some great images from the infamous graffiti artist/genius Banksy. Basically I'll post an image and simply invite you to bounce your ideas of it - to comment on what it says to you, to see if it makes you think of anything from the Biblical narrative or about Jesus or just about life in general.

I'll try and do images in situ as I think Banksy is best seen in the context of where he paints. Here's the first on to follow on from the previous Guantanamo stuff -

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Scratching your itch!

We seriously want to scratch where you itch! No one want to go to something they are not interested in or are bored by. We do engage because we want to talk about stuff that really matters to us and that engages with the real world.
So, what is that stuff? Where are you itching? Unless you tell us, we'll never know. We are wanting to plan our next Engage Face2Face session sometime in July, but we need to know what you want us to talk about. We really don't want it to be only stuff that Schof and I are interested in? So, where do you itch?
Please, click 'comments' at the bottom of this blog and leave your ideas there.... and we'll all together try to scratch in just the right place!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Gehenna to Guantanamo

I am going to go pretty close to the bone on this one but when this thought came together for me I found it to disturbing to leave alone.

In Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and countless other rendition centres the US government is making a mockery of the idea of human value, never mind dignity and rights. Grievously this is implicitly supported by many western nations including our own (did you hear Brown mention Guantanamo as he and Bush pressed flesh the other week?).

This is a US Government popularised, propped up and populated by many on the religious right, by many ‘Bible believing Christians’. I find myself once again aghast at religious history here. The ‘Crusades’ were justified by our religion, the ‘Conquistadors’, some of the Holocaust, the Apartheid system and now this cruel and inhumane war crime (if we employ the rhetoric of ‘war on terror’ to justify it then why do those ‘enemy combatants’ not fall under the Geneva convention?)

Ok enough politics you might say but let me lay something on you that I am deeply troubled by and its not a republican/democrat thing or even a 'Christians should be in the political sphere' thing. In fact – this is something that I would rather Christians kept out of the political sphere.

Let me lay this on you and see if it might disturb you to. I think certain popular but problematic views/motifs that have dominated particular strands of Christian thinking might be contributing to this darkly absurd situation where the land of the free becomes the land of the torturer. In the domination of a pretty crude ‘penal substitution’ view of what the cross is all about and in the very literal interpretation of the supposed fate of those who are not Christians we have a ready made recipe (available widely on the internet!) for our own theological shoe bomb terrorism.

A key test of any ‘spirit’, hermeneutic or theology is not just its biblical consistency or historic place but also and especially its impact on the ‘hearts and minds’ and behaviour/practice of those who follow it. Does it make Gods love more complete in them, do they end up more christlike? What is its legacy in the world God loves?

Now I am not really a big believer in slippery slopes where one thing inevitably leads to another and I am not saying this is what is happening – but it’s still disturbing logic worth outing and speaking some truth to just in case.

So –

If ‘they’ are evil enemies of God = 'Freedom' = America
Especially if they are Muslim - the officially endorsed ‘enemies’ of America/God (now Communism has gone, even though these new enemies were armed and enlisted in America’s ranks in this previous battle)
They are deserving of ‘judgement’
They are hell bound anyway
An angry God will torture them forever in Hell
So as Gods agents on earth - why not start all that now if it can save a few white saints in the process.
If they are already condemned by God why do they even need a trial (Fair trial and due process that us white saints would demand)
If God is for us and on our side, if we are to be his representatives on earth why not make like he does and create a hell - in Cuba,
Why not send people there indeterminably to suffer for their sins
Hey we are doing him a favour, we are being like him – hell maybe we are him…..

Now I don’t envy anyone with the power to have a finger hovering on the button or the ability and awful opportunity to act beyond the law. I don’t know the ‘right’ way forward when terrorism threatens the people who elected me to protect them and their innocent children but I to must struggle with these simple words:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45

Sunday, 22 June 2008


I think David Schnarch (I love that name!) said that humans have two desires - one to be close to another. The other is to resist tyranny. I like that way of putting it. It is as though all relationships inevitably involve losing themselves (making themselves vulnerable, exposing themselves to another, sometimes being imposed upon). But these relationships also involve the desire to retain 'ourselves' and not be treated like a doormat, but with the dignity and freedom God has given us.

Yet, in the church the desire to retain 'ourselves' is often looked down on. We shouldn't be concerned with ourselves, but with others - we should serve. The language of servanthood is often used in churches to reinforce tyranny. People work like slaves in the Christian cause (or the cause of the minister). And people compete with each other about what good servants they are. They are discouraged from standing up for themselves because this is not servant-like.

Yet, bizarrely, I think I understand all the stuff Jesus said about servanthood to be against both competition and tyranny. He was saying that instead of competing for status and position and authority, we should look for ways of serving one another. It was written to the male disciples (and lets face it, it is still males in the church who love authority and the women who end up practising servanthood) to stop them being tyrannical. It was not written to the woman servant. Not every Bible passage applies to everyone. Bullies need to serve, servants need status! Leaders need to serve, servants need to lead! Its an upside down kingdom, not a crush them down kingdom.

Wayne's Wedding!

I must confess, to my shame, to being one of the many who let out a silent "hooray" at the news that Wayne & Colleen's lavish wedding had been spoilt by torrential rain - no amount of money could command the weather, it would seem.

But, of course, it was all prejudice pure and simple. Sure enough, £5 million is a lot to spend on a wedding and every guest being given a butterfly to release at a key moment is just pretentious!

But, doesn't everyone live up to their means? We all live in as big a house as we can afford and spend as much as we can on weddings. (Wayne & Colleen actually spent a year's wages on the wedding - about the same as most people apparently spend) And if those in the 3rd world saw how some of us lived, wouldn't they regard our expenditure as lavish?

So, is it envy? Or is it just snobbery - loving to mock the pretentions of two Scouser chavs trying to act like royalty? Either way, I'm guessing its not an attractive trait. Maybe I should worry a little more about my own spending and be a little more pleased for two guys from a poor part of Liverpool, who've made good.

Mr Rhino teaches us about Symbiosis and Servanthood

At church we are talking a lot about servanthood. Sometimes certain christian cultures make the language of losing self and taking up cross sound very degrading and diminishing. Of course, these phrases Jesus uses are about counting cost - but they are also about counting benefit - finding self, finding real abundant life. We are not just servants of God but more, we are called friends and if its true that we are all created to live best when we are interconnected to God and each other then perhaps we have a whole wonderful world of symbiosis to discover! Now that's a big word - I'll let my daughter's favorite Rhino explain -

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Picturing Dissent!

Two pictures of dissent from two very interesting people. The one at the bottom was drawn by the naked pastor (see link). He has some great images on his website. I imagine this one to be a depiction of how we as Christians want to fight any hint of tyrrany in the church. Its a valid concept, although I'm not sure about the martial imagery. I also wonder whether there is a time for people to 'grow up' from venting their spleen at church and move on to the tyrrany in the world at large. I could be wrong, but I personally find a long-standing anti-church stance unattractive. I find challenging injustice and oppression outside the church more attractive.
The one at the top was drawn by Banksy (a Bristol graffiti artist). This one is an example of a piece of his graffiti. Some of his stuff (not all) is really making a subversive point about the establishment. Imagine the picture on a street in Bristol. Graffiti by its nature is a statement of dissent. I imagine this picture sums up his mission to be subversive through the very peaceful means of pictures and graffiti. I love the idea of someone angrily throwing a bunch of flowers at the injustice and oppression in the world. Anyone got any thoughts?

Thursday, 12 June 2008


When you read about that poor woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and read about the way she was stigmatised as 'unclean' just because she was ill. And when you think about the poor lepers who were stigmatised for the same reason, and the way they were sent away to live in 'unclean places'. And when you read about this obsessive need to classify people and their need to use language such as 'dirt' and pollution in order to exclude. And when you realise that this ordering involves rejecting human beings. When you realise all this, you've got to be grateful that we live in a much more enlightened age, when we don't stigmatise people or places as 'unclean'... except, of course, for filthy prostitutes... and those dirty Greenham Common Protesters and those disgusting guys who climb up trees to stop motorway construction...oh and our squalid inner cities, with their graffiti that is like "one of those scribbled signatures teenagers spray around their beat like a urinating dog." Apart from this self-evidently filthy stuff, I'd say we've got it sussed.

Friday, 6 June 2008

An idea

Here's an idea to move us forward:

How about we identify an issue (we ask people for ideas). Ideally it is a local issue of poverty/disenfranchisement, although world issues might also work.

We then find out everything we can about it (we make it a collective enterprise), with the following goals:
  • To be informed.
  • To identify 2-3 things we can practically do about it (even if they are small things)
  • We network with others who are working in this area.

We give ourselves a strict timeframe (3 months?) so as to focus the mind.

We do the things we can do.

It's just an idea... but you never know that one of these investigations might just capture the imagination and open up opportunities for doing things we can actually practically do and really enjoy doing. It might lead us to make invaluable contact with other like-minded people.

What do you think? Other, better ideas or refinements, are more than welcome.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Too close to the fire / dancing with the pomo devil?

The yearning for holiness is not at odds with the desire for relevance. For while holiness sets us apart unto God, it is God who calls us into the world.

Dreaming a Metaphor

Here's another metaphor from our brothers and sisters at

Leaning into a Dream
Written by Daniel Tidwell : June 4, 2008

I really wonder what it would mean for us to believe that the Kingdom of God is like a little yeast tucked into the corners of our unleavened life.

I have been in some conversations lately that have made me think a lot about what it looks like to see the world we live in as the living and growing Kingdom of God. My mind seems to be so oriented to seeing life in terms of the culture and human empires we live in that it seems almost as if the Kingdom is an alternate dimension into which I cannot pass.

In learning to have eyes to see into the imaginations of God for the world, I believe that we can lean into the dream of the Kingdom. It is, however, a slow process. It takes time to baptize our minds into the vision of God’s love alive and at work in the world. It takes learning to discern, listen to, and move with the rhythms of the Spirit.

It is a bit like learning to lean into a dream. That place where the mind is active in a way that we can’t seem to control. Sometimes I find myself in that in between place where I know that I am asleep and dreaming, but I am aware enough that I could wake myself up. In many ways I think it is the same in learning to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God. We know good and well that there is a “real world” waiting for us to wake up and get with the program of another day’s daily grind of production. But there is a choice. We can choose to lean into the dream of God instead of settling for the “reality” that we have come to believe so easily.

As we discipline ourselves to lean into the dream of God’s Kingdom, we may have a new awakening in which we realize the dream itself is the reality that we have been longing for. The Kingdom dream is inbreaking on the world around us, and it is actually when we are living by the empires of the world that we are sleepwalking through life. To live in the dream of God is to allow our imaginations, consciences, and actions to be baptized into the Kingdom of God. It is be soul awake and alive to the Holy Spirit at work in renewing our world and moving us towards the glorious coming completion of the restoration of God through Christ.

I am reminded of the magical realism of the film The Science of Sleep. This film offers a beautiful parable of what it might be like for us to learn to lean into the inbreaking dream of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps in time we will learn to see the dream as the reality into which we are called to live. Perhaps with enough imagination, our forms of discipleship may make this more possible for future generations.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Why did no women write a book of the Bible?

I've been asked this question more than 'is there a God?', and certainly more often than 'Why am I here?'

Incidently Crossan (I told you, you'd get fed up of him) suggests that Mark's Gospel was written by the woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Mark 14. She is "'Mark' herself obliquely and indirectly signing her narrative." Even if this is not true this woman was the supreme example of Christian faith for the author. "The disciples have never, as Mark sees it, understood or accepted Jesus' impending crucifixion. But now, in the home of Simon the Leper, for the first time somebody believes that Jesus is going to die and that unless his body is anointed now, it will never be."

Crossan's book, though, made me think about this question in a different way. Given Crossan's claim that Jesus belonged to a social class just below the peasants (who lived just on subsistence level) and just above the 'untouchables' or 'expendables' or whatever you want to call them. Also, given that 95 - 97% of the Jewish state at this time were illiterate and that therefore it is highly likely that Jesus was illiterate. And given that these two factors give Jesus a unique 'underclass' perspective on the world - certainly a different perspective from the tiny urban elite who were literate. Given all this, my (slightly bizarre) question is: why did the illiterate not write a book of the Bible? Why do we not hear the perspective of the millions of illiterate people who have graced our planet?


The Terminus Initiative

The Terminus initiative was set up in 2002 by a partnership of local churches, St Peters The Michael Church URC, South Sheffield Evangelical Church and Greenhill Methodist Church, serving the Lowedges Estate on the southern edge of Sheffield (these guys are 'diffeeeerentttt'!). they do a cafe, cheap second hand goods, stuff with asylum seekers, health bits and bobs, credit union, accessible spiritual stuff etc etc etc

I am working on a website for them at the moment but they are also in need of any second hand clothes and brick-a-brack. If you have any stuff that you need to clear out of your cluttered life then just give me a shout and I will gladly collect them for the Terminus guys.

Paul & Women Revisited

Crossan (Sorry, him again) refers to an interesting text in Paul's letters - 1 Corinthians 9:5

Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife (Lit. sister wife), as do other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

What the heck is a 'sister wife'? Crossan argues that it is a female missionary who travels with a male missionary as if, for the world at large, she is his wife. The purpose of which is to provide protection for a traveling female missionary. Crossan goes on to speculate that when Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs, he sent them out as male and female to enable female ministry, but with male protection in a violent world.

If it were true it would certainly support our previous contention that women played an important part in Paul's ministry.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008


Read Jesus: a radical biography by Crossan last week, whilst lying in the Spanish sun. It is Crossan's reconstruction of what we can know about the historical Jesus. It's a brilliant book, with some real gems, but not for the faint hearted. I found a stiff drink helped! Anyway, it made me think about a few things, so if my blogging over the next few weeks becomes a bit Crossan focused, you'll have to excuse me.

One small comment that made me think was something he said about Jesus' vision: He talked about Jesus' "magnificent vision... But were others only on the receiving end of that vision and program, or were they somehow empowered into it as active protagonists and not just passive recipients?" He answers the question by reference to something that is recorded in three independent accounts (Gospel of Thomas, Q Gospel and Mark's Gospel) and therefore more likely to be historical. It is what we often call the sending out of the 70. These people were, according to Crossan, "healed healers, part of whose continuing healing was precisely their empowerment to heal others."

I was very struck by this and thought that one of the key things we are trying to do with Engage is empower people. I wish to be empowered by others (and ask you to help me) and I must empower you. Let's make Engage something that liberates people to be active protagonists.

I am also struck by Jesus' leadership style. He didn't keep things tight or controlled. He let people free to do things and risked them messing up. Rollins thinks we still need leaders to reject their leadership place - "there is an important place for someone whose job it is to refuse the place." I don't know about that, but lets seek to constantly draw people into the circle of ownership and be lead as much as lead.

On that note, is this blog too intimidating for others to genuinely engage with?

Hands together for Arms (or no arms)

Lets get praying and maybe, next time, we should be doing something as well?

Monday, 2 June 2008

Questions are like Doors

A few of my friends are asking some pretty big questions right now. I am too and I remember the fear that can accompany those questions. A couple of years ago I read a great article in Thirdway magazine by Richard Rohr on 'questions' and I guess that it must have been bumbling round my head recently as I wrote this last week to get my thoughts out and make use of them. I'll enclose a link to an abridged version of R Rohr's article below because its great.

Questions are like doors

Answers are like walls – you need them but not too many. Questions are like doors.

Questions allow us to explore, to journey and to come back home with a story. And when we return, like from a trip to India, we find that we have changed and ‘home’ has changed

This is better than just building walls because, although they offer a deal of security, they also tend to isolate us and bind us to a specific time and place. In time you will forget about a wall and not even notice it in the everydayness of living. Doors, like in a wending Medina street, will always intrigue and invite and when the time is right you will step through from today into what tomorrow could be. Doors/Questions allow us to experience the wardrobe of Narnia.

Jesus asked lots of questions, about 307. In other words he opened lots of doors for people. Interestingly he answered very few, just 3 of the 187 he was himself asked, usually just rephrasing the question back to the questioner.

So it is not a massive leap to conclude that Questions are not just ok but good, even necessary in our journey of spiritual formation. We also see a pattern for why, when people question God, they often get a question back (e.g. Job ‘did you do this, can you even grasp that’, Paul’s question in Romans who’s answer is ‘who are you the pot to question the potter’

If you determine to create a door not a wall and if you dare step through that door and encounter God in honesty then you may not get an answer but you will be invited to commune with God, to travel with him, to bare his silence and discern a still small voice. Most importantly you will come back with a story of your journey and like any journey experience it is something you will then carry with you, it is something that will change you and the way you see the world, the other and your travelling companion God himself (often in unanticipated ways). This story that you now carry can also be reflected upon later, interpreted by hindsight and shared with others. It has the power to be transformative both now and it the future.

There is another genius to creating more doors than walls. Doors can be reused. It is amazing that a journey taken in one's teens can be retraced in adult life only to be a surprisingly different experience. New features of a landscape zoom into focus, subtleties of colour, complexities and tensions of interdependence are more keenly appreciated, simple joy or stillness and comfort are more readily felt. This is because, as we step through a door, we take our self with us and this dynamic discerning self allows us a myriad of experiences. So if you have a question, a door, you can go again through the same space and amazingly return with a new and different story that makes sense of life afresh.

It seems that in the walk of faith God calls us to walk through his doors not permanently brick them up. He calls us to risk living and growing, not to hole up and just get ready to die. He calls us to cry out, to seek, to seek him and his image, truth and grace in the world and to actively discover and participate in these things. To return again and again and see what new thing he has to reveal, to show, what new or ancient path he would have us walk or rediscover.

R Rohr Article - Discovering the Right Questions verses Having the Right Answers -
(pic is from my 2006 trip to Morocco)

Brothers (and Sisters) Gonna Work it out?

Here is another provocative post from Peter Rollins. If you scroll down you will also see my comment - what do you think about it? Why not comment on his blog.

Each to their own, or how to disrespect the other