Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Having sex for virginity!

I was very proud of one of my pupils today as I marked her work. She wrote:

"I believe all war is pointless and avoidable. It is my belief that fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity. Once a war begins, peace is already lost."

Go Girl!

Needless to say, she has sanitised this for my ears. The original version of this phrase is somewhat more graphic!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

10 step plan for peace!

When talking to Palestinians recently, they said that most people in their country had lost any sense of hope. They saw no possibility of peace talks ever giving a fair deal to Palestine, because it is always a discussion between unequal parties. This loss of hope is leading to ever more radicalisation, which only makes matters worse.

Despite saying all this, I liked the video below because I felt that what is being presented is a fair, equitable solution to the Palestinian situation. Will it ever happen? I think we have to believe sometimes, because we have no alternative.

This video is a little long, but for anyone interested in the Palestinian crisis I recommend 02.57 - 23.20. At the end a Jewish theologian makes a point which is very similar to my post here:

"Christians don't know how to stand up to Jews when they're wrong... What is it about Christians? What is it about Christianity?"


Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembering War!
























I have long felt uneasy about some of the ways Remembrance Sunday is kept. The language, at times, seems to glorify war. In fact, the term "glorious dead" is frequently heard. The idea that these people have "won our freedom" is also not always true. But, even where there may be some truth in it, it communicates the message about redemptive violence I don't feel entirely comfortable with. For me, remembering should be what it was always intended to be - remembering war so that it would never be repeated. It was instituted so that the First World War would be the 'war to end all wars'.

So, it was very good this morning to hear Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia, on the radio, echoing some of these same ideas. They have done a full report on the subject, which is worth a read and can be found here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Christians supporting Israel

I love this picture. It was drawn by a pupil in Palestine and given to me as part of the exchange programme we are running. It shows the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the way Palestinians are forbidden access to it, even though it is in their city. This only touches the tip, though, of the human rights abuses Palestinians face on a daily basis. Another picture given to me (since destroyed in the rain) was a picture of a pupil’s home – a tent. His parents were forced out of their homes 40 years ago and are now living in camps. They have lost all rights to their homes and aren’t even allowed to travel into Israel, let alone go back to their home towns. Every day Palestinians face humiliating and intimidating treatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers. An enormous wall has been erected around the West Bank. One school we are linked with is on the wrong side of the wall. Each day pupils must go through the wall. It is only open between 7am and 7.30. Sometimes soldiers arrive early and pupils miss getting through. They have to wait at the wall until 2 o’clock before it opens again.

I know a lot of this is familiar to most of you who are reading this, but I just want to make a point about Christian allegiances in this conflict. Many Christians have an instinctive support for Israel, based on the fact that they were the people of God in the Old Testament and that they were promised the land of Israel “for ever as an everlasting possession.” Whatever you think of these promises, and the extent to which they are still applicable today, it seems to me there is one thing we could all agree on: Israel, in the Bible, was never beyond criticism – even damning criticism - when it neglected justice. Jesus called Jerusalem to repentance (Luke 13:34). In fact the promises to Israel were conditional (Lev. 20:22) and in the New Testament, John the Baptist railed at those who claimed exemption from judgement by claiming, "We have Abraham as our father." (Matthew 3:9) We, also, should not support Israel while it engages in the confiscation of property and racial apartheid, simply on the basis that Abraham was their father. It was always the extent to which they followed justice that determined whether or not they were the people of God.

“Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” (Lev. 20:22)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Bible and the Postmodern Imagination



Having read Brueggemann's book recently - Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and the Postmodern Imagination - I just want to say that I think it is outstanding. Brueggemann is a brilliant writer and thinker and I think in this book he hits the nail on the head in terms of the direction the church should take and the role of the Bible in the postmodern world. What I like about it is:



  • He understands the power of the 'story' (or 'propaganda', depending which word you want to use). Advertisers wouldn't spend so much on telling us their story if it didn't matter.

  • He understands the key role of the Bible in countering that story. If a biblical counter-imagination is not employed, "the Christian congregation will rely on the dominant infrastructure of consumerism." For me, this is why the Bible really matters - the insfrustructure of consumerism is debilitating and dehumanising.

  • He makes the Bible utterly relevant to our age, without being under the thumb of postmodern preoccupations.

  • He demonstrates brilliantly the signifance of the Bible as story, rather than a set of propositions.
  • It is hopeful, yet academically rigerous. So often academia can lead to cynicism and can get caught up in concerns about modernist truth claims. Somehow he remains utterly postmodern, academic, yet faithful and hopeful.

Nothing I have read in ages has inspired me so much. Read it and enjoy.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sheffield hosts CAP conference


Redefining prosperity
St Mary's Community Centre, Sheffield

Saturday 14 November 2009, 11am – 4pm
with...Anne Pettifor Leader of Jubilee 2000, author of The Real World Economic Outlook (2003) and The Coming First World Debt Crisis (2006)
Cathy McCormack, Grassroots activist & author of The Wee Yellow Butterfly
Professor Tim Jackson, Sustainable Development Commissioner, author of Prosperity without growth?

An opportunity to think theologically about economics!


“It began with a squeeze, then the squeeze became a crunch and the crunch became a downturn and the downturn became a crisis. A crisis of faith as the temple of Mammon on which we have all sought to build our economic prosperity was tried in the fire of truth, honesty and reality, and was revealed to have shaky foundations. …When the day of reckoning came - and there is always a day of reckoning - the winds of truth blew away the countless houses of cards.” John Sentamu, Archbishop of York


The conference will examine the following questions:
What are the immediate and longer-term impacts of the economic crisis for those directly affected?
Do we need to fundamentally rethink our idea of prosperity?
What can be done to build a major just, equal and sustainable society and economy in future?
What positive contribution can faith communities make?

A donation of £10 waged or £3 unwaged will cover the conference which includes lunch. Please return the booking form, together with your donation (cheques payable to Church Action on Poverty), to the CAP office, Central Buildings, Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JQ. – or email janeta@church-poverty.org.uk to reserve your place.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A few things on my mind...

I'm writing this post because I want to attempt to articulate a few things that are on my mind at the moment. Theology has to relate to real life and answer real questions, so here is my attempt to articulate what is real for me at the moment. I’d really love to be able to engage with others in discussing some of these questions theologically.

Church Having been seriously screwed up by religion and pretty negative of a lot of what I see (not all, by any means) and having had some pretty bad experiences in some churches, I guess I’m pretty surprised that I still believe in church at all. Having not been a part of a community for nearly a year, I’m surprised by how unsettled I feel by being an isolated Christian. Forgetting all the baggage that gets put up around church (and there’s a lot of it!) stripped to its bear essentials I still think it’s a great idea. My take on church is that it is a community of people who choose to come together to be ethically challenged and to be mobilised to take action with that in mind. How good is that? And how relevant to the needs of our age?

But, this is where I struggle… first, there are so few decent churches out there. I’m sorry if I’m just unaware of the good ones and I’m sure there are some out there, but on my tour of churches this year I’ve been disappointed by how far so many are from the ideal I’ve just presented. So many are caught up in modernist baggage which seems to be more about defending the faith and less about equipping people to live.

A bigger struggle is with the way life is structured in the 21st century. If, like me, you have kids and a full-time job, you have little time for community or even putting your faith into practice. It’s so easy to adopt an individualistic religiosity that does little more than read / write blogs and listen to podcasts on your ipod. To be religious is to be like the Madonna with her ipod!

This last point provokes a lot of questions for me: After all, I’m sure capitalism wants to make me compliant and wants my religion to be private and non-political. I think it has little to gain from giving me time to protest, march, or engage in ethical action that doesn’t involve simply changing my shopping choices. The ‘system’ (whatever that is) has little interest in giving me time for the counter-cultural church I described above. No dominant ideology wants people meeting together to think independently and question.

So, I am in something of a quandary: the reason we need church, is precisely the thing that makes it so difficult. It is the lack of community and the dominance of the capitalist hegemony that means church is so vital and so hard.

I feel compelled to ask questions about what all this means. Yet, here is another quandary: Without a community who is there to help me think these things through theologically and practically? Well, I'm hoping someone in the blogging fraternity might.

I’m sorry, I’ve rambled on a lot and I said at the beginning of this post that I had a ‘few’ things on my mind. I guess I’ll have to leave the others for a later post. So, what's on your mind?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Do you see this woman?

It's very easy to go through life and not notice certain groups of people - we can hardly notice the homeless person, the asylum seeker, the psychiatric patient, the violent, the unloved. I guess our whole lives are geared around living in a bubble of middle-class people who cause us no discomfort. It was one of the first things that struck me when I first started teaching - I saw a cross-section of the population - those who would never, with all the will in the world get a GCSE, those who had been burnt, abused. I see the disabled, the young carers, the witnesses of domestic abuse. Yet, now I've been teaching all these years, its easy not to see it.

It is with this in mind that I was struck this week by Ched Myers' take on the story of the woman who washed Jesus' feet. The crux of the story, he argues, is when Jesus turns to the crowd and asks "Do you see this woman?" Here was a woman suffering and oppressed and she is not seen - the political consequences of her actions are seen, but the woman herself is not seen. Jesus called on the religious leaders, just as he calls on us, to see the inconvenient other.

I myself had lived for years with Bibles and commentaries all around me and had not seen - now the challenge is to live with this new insight - an insight that sees, even if inadequately.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Wordless

Went to 'Reflective Space' at St Oswald's last night (nice to see u Rache) and found myself very conflicted and wrestling with many ambiguous thoughts and feelings, falling into silence and finally reconciliation that for now there is no resolution - just a small light in the darkness that will not be overcome.

Seems like the guys involved in Reflective Space are going to be changing a bit / progressing with maybe some sort of broader network of folk wanting to explore reflection, creativity and ritual - interesting times for those interested in this stuff.

Will keep you posted if and when I hear more and please return the favour.

Quote that's floating round at moment:

“The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.” Chuang Tzu

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Swamped with worship leaders!


According to Wlison Carlile College, Sheffield. Last year they had the following training for ministry:


1 Evangelist

3 Pastoral Workers

6 Lay Readers

16 Worship Leaders


What does this tell you about our society? In our celebrity saturated world, everyone wants to be a singer. We certainly have more role models of singers than evangelists. I'm sure most people would rather be Matt Redman than Billy Graham!


What I'd like to see is some activists or prophets on the list. Any better suggestions anyone?


I certainly don't think this is morally neutral. There are consequences for the church in co-opting the values of pop culture.

Friday, 11 September 2009

(S) Hell Garages





I love this idea. Take a photo of Shell service stations, obscuring the 's' to make 'hell'. These can be sent to Amnesty International who upload them onto the Google maps site. You can also write a review of a garage on Google maps : "They are abusing human rights in the Niger Delta".
And why? They are, as you may have already gathered, abusing human rights in Africa. Click here to see more about the campaign.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Climbing the Jack Nicholson facet of the Atonement

Not sure why but I was musing on the Cross whilst taking a soak and this clip jumped in my head. I am really appreciative of how different people, different communities and different everyday culture can shed light on a new facet of the biblical story of atonement. Here I feel the impact of the unmasking. That decisive moment where justice comes as a light not a gun, where we finally see through the rhetoric we so often fall for about the 'peace' we enjoy and see it is in fact the opposite of peace. We also realise our own denial, our own complicity, our own will to power we disguise so well - yet the unmasking is the undoing of it all - it will inevitably, mercifully and miraculously crumble from here.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are the unmasking of evil.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Affirming Liberalism

Check out the two podcasts at 'Affirming Liberalism', particularly the one by Martyn Percy. He argues that churches grow, not by having the right theology (whether Evangelical, Liberal, Emergent), but by getting the simple things right (a warm welcome, relaxed environment, good music and children's work). It gave me hope that an alternative to the churches is possible. What do other people think of his podcast?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Parable of the Lost Sons

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, Father, give me my share of the estate. So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, how many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him; he ran to his son, raised his hand then stopped himself, he tore his robe and began to weep.The son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

So the father said to his servants, Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

But first, said the father *, bring the fattened calf and kill it. No, wait, that is not enough. Before we feast and celebrate this son of mine who was dead and is alive again there is one more thing to be done.

The older son was in the field. When he was brought near the house, he heard loud wailing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come, he replied, and your father wants to see you.

When the older brother realised his father’s intention he became distraught and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. You never even had to sacrifice a young goat for me. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill for him!

My son, the father said, this is the way of the world.

* Some early manuscripts include the phrase ‘with a grievous sigh’ others record ‘with a solemn determination’

The real story is here

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Beer AND Hymns

If you came from Homebrewed Christianity then Chad nearly got it right - it's beer & hymns... click to find out more from the Jesus Arms and thanks to Eliza for getting this video up so quick - you know you want to be at Greenbelt next year. Tripp and Chad - your tickets will be on the door my friends and perhaps a deacon discount should be arranged?

If you didn't come via the brew boys latest podcast feat us in the intro and then the man LeRon Shults... you should have

Proper festival reflections including the Gooder, Bell and Ugly after I pick up my laptop bag inc ipod etc that I left in Subway in Cheltenham - doooooohhhhhhhhh!

If you were there - what was your Good Bad and Ugly of Greenbelt 09?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

take every thought

'take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ'

From my evangelical background I have always read that in the richness of a devotional tradition that taught me to use this to banish the sinful desires of the flesh. It's a great hook to meditate on when temptation strikes and you need the spirit to bring the focus onto what is good and true and noble etc.

I am thinking now though that there is more to it. Who usually keeps our thoughts and mindset 'captive'. Perhaps it is also a reference to the powerful imperial theology of Rome the was so ubiquitous for these early Christ followers. How easy to forsake 'the way' and be led like a captive in the victory parade of another ideology....for me now as I am captivated by the idea that my value is bound to my consumption, that my own freedom to choose / consume is just and my right, when really it is paid for by the sweat and blood of another.

Its seems now that this is not just about my own 'thoughtlife' (especially the sexual) ie separate from my actions in society but about my mindset in engaging the whole world and the systems of domination that surround us.

So then, I pray the thoughts of my heart may be brought captive, may follow the train and walk to the beat of the liberating love and life of Christ, and enable me to follow the way of transformation, for me and for the world.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

selling...buying?


You may be selling but I ain't buying
You make out it's true but I know your lying
What good it stuff when your crying
What good is consumption when the world is dying
I don't know if I can live up to this
but I'am up for trying

I am mostly thinking...and you?

Apologies for posting being so infrequent.

At the moment I am most thinking....

Guilt / retributive Justice is not transformational, Grace and distributive Justice is. Not just at systemic level but personal level - walking 'in Christ' in the spirit' is transformational in every 'now'.

How to interpret the poss pseudo Paul bits on the NT where we encounter not the radical Paul but the conservative and anti Paul's

About the wonderful possibility of being 'Called Again' by God in a desert/post-critical place

Revisiting Hosea teaching I did a few years ago and poss sharing it at new Church to inform need to 'green' our big list maintenance work

I am mostly reading/sucking up podcasts on bizarre array! -

John Stott, Process Theology, Bent down Jesus, Paul Riccour, Alan Jamieson, Rita Brock on prostitution (gee arn't I the proud/sad pomo eclectic), Fresh Expressions in Sacramental tradition

Also digging the Israeli funk of The Apples (inc their sweeeet cover of 'Killing in the name of') who are playing...

Greenbelt - really looking foreword to it and catching up with folk over beer & hymns. Also won't miss hasidicish magic of UK's finest, as feat here in 2007 Dan le Sac & Scroobius Pip

Whats going on for you?

Maybe see you at GB

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Rediscover Bible in Community

Check out great interview with Tim Conder on Homebrewed Christianity about 'Rediscovering the Bible in Community' and some stories from his church.
Felt big echo of my own dream of church - an open and authentic, contemplative and sacramental community of grace and peace in action.
Love the stuff around on:
Place of christ/spirit/text in community (u know we love respecting the text (God of) round here)
Provisional humility and providing space for faith not control to coerce
Church as transformative organism

Shape and form of Emmaus Way similar to lots of my experience but also combines open ethos, self aware deep church and human diversity and sacramental patterning of life - all of which are kids I would chose to hang with (tooooo.....many.....y...ank....podcasts..lea....ding to 'impiremergant' hegemony....and....use ...of...strreee...t...talk!)

So hey, big up Tripp and Chad (must get us deconsied soon) for continued interstellar blue snowball goodness (just listen a bit) and peace to Emmaus Way. Go buy the book - the angels of amazon are winging mine to me as I type (click book above for link).

Shalom

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Man in the Mirror


The sound of Thriller still haunts my every move around the grounds of our school. Any doubts about the survival of worship in the 21st century have been firmly put to rest by this latest outpouring of affection that I still witness on a daily basis.

School children manage to make an emotional bond with someone they have never met - thanks to the global media. And we all feel able to act as judge and jury - weighing up the pros and cons of a man because we feel we know him.

And isn't this precisely what has torn the man apart - amongst other things our obsession with commenting (judging). He has to either live up to hopelessly unrealistic expectations or feel the gaze of the world on every silly, unwise or possibly 'criminal' act (and there have been plenty of them).

Instead of gazing intently at this celebrating we don't know, maybe it is about time we took a look at "the man in the mirror". For me, Jacko is the Demoniac of Gerasa in Mark 5. Like the demoniac he has been demonised and deified in equal measure and has felt the full isolation of being so treated. Both tortured themselves - Jacko's re-enactment of racism on himself is quite extraordinary. Both were ultimately the victims of what society made them. Only when Jesus started to speak to the demonaic as a human being - neither god nor demon - was he rehabilitated. Maybe we should have given Jacko such a luxury. Instead, his death marked just another opportunity for all of us to worship at the cult of Michael Jackson.
Maybe it is time to stop gazing at the man in the tabloids and do what Jackson himself asked and "look at the man in mirror". Maybe we will disocver that our worship of celebrities is not as harmless as we like to think.
Incidently, did you know that Jacko was a JW and he based the song "man in the mirror" on James 1:23 - "anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away immediately and forgets what he looks like." Lets not forget the man in the mirror!

What is Fundamentalism?

Here are a few suggestions I quite like:

"a greater concern to provide evidence for the authenticity of biblical passages than to discover their religious significance." (Barr)

fundamentalists "emphasis rational apprehension of the biblical text over subjective apprehension of the divine." (Boone)

"fundamentalists are evangelicals who are angry about something!" (Marsden)

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

10 times the food!


If you give to World Vision's campaign to feed the people of Southern Sudan, the World Food Programme will match it tenfold!

Serious hunger is affecting the people of Southern Sudan as a result of a civil war and natural disasters. Amina Ahmed is 15 years old and has 7 brothers and sisters to look after. They ended up in a refugee camp having been forced to flee their village by the conflict. Her father is missing and her mother is ill. So, it is up to her to feed her family.

I couldn't find anything about this on the net, but I am making this our school's fund raising this term. So, if you want to give as part of that, you could let me have a cheque and I will include it. Otherwise call 0800 088088.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Alternative worshippers look down on church!


Us bloggers love to sit behind a computer screen in our 7th floor vacant rooms and look down on church goers, alternative worshippers, other bloggers, and generally treat the whole world with disdain. How easy it is to be a blogger!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Stop the Settlements!


Why not support this campaign by Avaaz?

President Obama just made a remarkable speech in Egypt, committing personally to building peace in the Middle East. Unexpectedly, his first move is to directly challenge the new right-wing government of America's ally Israel - pressing them to stop their self-destructive policy of settlements.

Obama’s bold strategy is facing powerful opposition, so he’s going to need help around the world in the coming days and weeks to strengthen his resolve. Let’s start right now - by raising a massive global chorus behind Obama’s statement that the settlements in occupied territory must stop.

We’ll advertise the number of signatures in key newspapers in Israel, as well as in Washington DC (where some are trying to undermine Obama in the US Congress). Read Obama’s words now and add your signature to them at the link here.

"Israeli Settlement Growth Must Stop, Says Clinton":

Saying something positive about charismatic worship!


I've spent the last few months absorbed in a study of the Spring Harvest 2008 songbook - mostly in order to confirm all of my prejudices about charismatic worship - and yes, most of them were confirmed!
Its lack of engagement with contemporary issues is quite shocking. Only one song, for example, out of the 120 songs, mentions ecology! Only 6, in my opinion, really engage with issues such as poverty or oppression. Yet, in these 6 songs (by 3 authors), I detect a change. Particularly when you consider that the 1994 songbook had no songs about any of these issues and had a picture of Christians dressed as the Crusaders! Certainly, these 6 songs are framed in the typical charismatic ways (not always helpfully), but their presence in the songbook is worth noting. They are marked by an engagement with contemporary issues, a concern for justice and the oppressed, an integration of God with the day-to-day and a recognition that as Christians they participate in the bringing in of God's kingdom to the earth.
I think this is the best lyric. There are some aspects of the song I'm not a fan of, but here are some good charismatic lyrics:


"Bring heaven to earth, Lord,
... You invite us to partner with you,
to see your kingdom come.

...Bring home to the homeless,
...Bring worth to the purchased,
and touch to the shamed,
...bring truth where there's spin
...bring justice to profit,
bring patience to growth;
bring wisdom to progress,
...bring freedom from debt, Lord,
an end to excess."

Listen to the full song here.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

VOTE (Don't let 'Christian Values' kick Jesus out of the country)

Its elections today - GET OUT AND VOTE - otherwise, certainly in Sheffield and many other towns in the UK there is a real risk that the BNP might get in.
What's that on Nick Griffin's lapel - why a cross of course - because the BNP supposedly stand for 'Christian Values', good old England and all....
So Nick, this Jesus of yours, was he a swarthy skinned Palestinian Jew and one time asylum seeker in Egypt? Would you even let him into this country....

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Guantanamo Reversal?


“Now some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part” – Barack Obama.

Those were the words we really didn’t want to hear from Barack’s lips about his pledge to close Guantanamo, but we always feared that hidden in the fine print and the practical details, would be a reversal of sorts.

First, he has decided to revive Bush’s practice of trying terrorism suspects in military commissions. Whatever happened to a fair trial?

Second, he blocked the release of photos showing abuse of detainees. Whatever happened to justice for victims?

Third, “prolonged detention” of terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to the US, but who cannot be tried, because the evidence is “unusable” having been got under torture. Isn’t this just moving Guantanamo to the mainland?

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty, right to a fair trial, right to a lawyer?

I have some sympathy with Barack’s position, having to make the real decisions, but am I too harsh in seeing this as a reversal of sorts?

It prompts me to remember to pray for a man with tough decisions to make and that he wont go the way of practically every person I know who has power.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

3 Days to the 100k Trailtrekker (62.14miles) - eek

Just 3 days to go till I do the non stop 100k Trailtrekker combining the pain of multiple blisters with the glory of the Yorkshire Dales.

I am doing it for Oxfam, who are helping stockpile aid for emergency relief that can be on a plane to where ever its needed in just 13hrs - they specialise in toilets - not only is losing sanitation bad for disease but also for dignity. So if you want to get 'toilets on a plane' (a great film to be had there!) then sponsor me and my work colleagues here

Here to find out more about trailtrekker

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Sacrifice of Isaac

The story of the ‘almost’ sacrifice of Isaac has, over the centuries, remained both one of the most evocative and also highly contested tales in the Bible. How could God ask Abraham to kill his son? It appears to teach that we should do as God says, without questioning the ethics of the demand, and in the end, God will prove himself just. Is it really right that we do not question the ethics of God's apparent commands? - an argument that could be used to justify all manner of atrocities from the Crusades to 9/11. Here, though, I suggest an alternative, probably thought of by many others before me.
It strikes me that the story probably arose at a time when child sacrifice was common. It was inevitable that any conscientious person, who wanted to appease their deity, would assume that this is the thing to do. Abraham, brought up in such a world, was no different. He would have accepted the received wisdom that God wanted him to sacrifice his son - he even ‘heard’ God command it. However his instinct for justice and his love for his son meant that it did not sit easily with him, to say the least. As he heard the sound of a ram in the thicket he had something of an epiphany. “Maybe God wanted him to sacrifice a ram instead.” The tale, I suggest, became important for later Judaism in defining the distinctiveness of their religion. It explained why they sacrificed animals, while the religions around sacrificed children. Thus, when Jews told the story of the origin of their faith, they told it as a story about the rejection of the inhumanity of child sacrifice.

Rather than reading it as a story that encourages blind, unquestioning obedience, I suggest it should be read as a tale about the ways in which we can all hide behind God’s ‘command’ and thereby do evil in God’s name. It is also, though, a story about the rescue of a loving, caring father from the brink of a murderous act in the name of God. It is about the possibility of rescue for all of us from harmful belief systems. To quote one of my favourite poems,
“ the awareness of things ill done
and done to others’ harm
which once you took for exercise of virtue”

It is about the human capacity to mishear (sometimes genuinely) and find ourselves, in the process, culpable of dehumanising. It is about the human discovery that God always works to make us more human and that any conception of God that dehumanises is to mishear or misunderstand.

I’m hoping to read “Fear & Trembling” by Kierkegaard over the holiday, which I think picks up the image of the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac. Hopefully I’ll learn more after reading it.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Church on Fire!


"set your holy church on fire"


Is it just me, or does this line from a Matt Redman song ask God to be an arsonist?


Surely, there must be some budding lyricists out there who are capable of meaningful metaphor!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Monday, 4 May 2009

Great day...light

H gave me a day to myself today so i read, had coffee with my mother, went for a great fell run (in horizontal rain but that didn't include an asthma attack :-) and went to loads of artists studios as part of the Open Up festival - Great day. Loved the art and thoughts included:

:-( Sad that a number of the representations of a generic idea of violence were taken from the Christian religious tradition

:-) I LOVED this guy's stuff above. The views are some of my favorite views and his use of light (in street scenes as well - check Eccy rd) really impacted me - an evocative joy. It reminded me of a line from my previous post about light. Light in these pictures and in everyday reality is truly transformative. Even though the physical reality remains the same, somehow everything is different (dynamic, animated, pregnant with potential/meaning...etc?).

Acts 8 v 12 Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Sermons?

More knowledge (hearing?) = progress? - good old Jon

Sermons...discuss?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Curtains?

Any one got any spare curtains for the Assist guy's? An asylum seeker just got indefinite leave to stay (brilliant) but they've got no curtains (not so good - though not really the opposite equivalent to forced repatriation, just, you know, its a dignity thing). I'll pick up from around Sheffield. I'll also ask what other stuff they need at the moment as, if you are like me, you will have a large pile of stuff to car boot but no discipline to get up for the 6am start.

Spiritwitterality

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Alternative?

Theo Hobson on how 'no real alternative' most alternative worship is, and toying with something more authentic - from the good Ship of Fools

U2?

Ok, its growing on me....

Don't have it yet? Check spotify to listen to U2 or almost anything else for free

Monday, 20 April 2009

Been a long time.... (3 months in 1 post)

I'll try and condense everything I intended to post but didn't get round to into (as close as I get to normal) sentences:

  • Got a new Job - Corporate Responsibility - doing good (trying to) feels good doesn’t it?
  • Israel / Palestine - read Esther - violence (without God) is cyclical - that’s what's so radical about the Jesus story - refusing revenge = chance of change
  • Light is a powerful universal symbol that we miss because we can flick a switch
  • I wanted Easter to be a 're-personalisation' of a transformative story / person /(ongoing) event
    Taking up your cross is not about (the myth of?) 'redemptive' suffering (the cross = general suffering association is later) it’s about going up against the dominion system and the 'way' of transformation through death/resurrection
  • I don't miss the blogosphere because - as U2 sing on up till now disappointing new album, ' your enemies will define you' / real people matter more
  • I do miss the real people on the blogosphere
  • Write a Book = vanity v useful ?
  • My old church was great
  • Is there a balance between reconciling oneself to not being able to change everything and wanting to change everything?
  • Too many good books to be read
  • Is it only me that one day thinks its all made up, one day thinks its all true, one day doesn't care but just want to get on, one day doesn't think at all etc etc?
  • Individualism is its own worst enemy
  • Justice / Holistic Worship / Proclamation?
  • Rowan was profound when he said that God doesn't promise to stop us ruining stuff (God is not a responsibility mop (the Gospel is as much a responsibility distributor as receptacle)
  • Easter = Love wins/ Life = trying to believe and do that
  • I think its still worth doing something in Sheffield on Spiritual Development to give a bit of a map for fellow travellers
  • Things are complicated, but even harder when simple
  • G20.....?
  • Engage......?
  • Good to be back?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Theology that changes things

As an advocate of social change, who likes to sit at home and do as little as possible, I've been wondering:

What kind of theology changes society as well as people’s hearts?

Here are a few historical perspectives:

Postmillennialism to Pre-millennialism. These ideas can be highly tedious hair splitting exercises in interpreting Revelation. On the other hand, they can reflect very different perspectives about the relationship of God to social change. Certainly from the time of the Puritans until the end of the 19th century Protestantism had held the view that Jesus would return after the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. This meant that social change was both desirable and achievable. It meant human beings were a part of the process of the return of Jesus. At the end of the 19th century, and coinciding with the mainstream church becoming less interested in social change, the church moved to the idea that Jesus would return before God’s kingdom was established on earth. If Jesus was to return to earth first, what happened to the earth before that was pretty academic. I, personally, do not want to advocate either, but I do think a theology that hopes for the kingdom of God established on earth is preferable.

Imminence and Transcendence Most churches have historically preferred transcendence over imminence. Look at the songs we sing – they talk about God ‘up there’, beyond us, understood by admiring the wonders of creation. By contrast, such songs did not appear amongst black slaves in North America. Instead, God was among them – he worked out his purposes through the slaves. They saw God as imminent. Thus, they did not wait for God to come as a bolt from heaven, for when they acted God acted.

Predestination and Free will. I have no desire to unpack these philosophical ideas! Just to say, that advocates of free will (e.g. Wesley, Finney) were active in bringing social change. I’m sure either extreme is mistaken and maybe reflects the failure to grasp what the slaves recognised – that God acts through us, so such distinctions are irrelevant.

Who is up for a theology that incorporates the imminence of God with a belief that God will establish his kingdom on earth?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Condensed Bible

A pupil today presented me with a book he'd made "The condensed Bible". I opened it. It said, "Chapter 1: be a good person".

Friday, 6 March 2009

Put People First



I think I will go to this. Anybody else?
go to this to find out more:

http://www.putpeoplefirst.org.uk/about-us/media/

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Losing Life to Save it!

I love James Cone, and here he is at his usual uncompromising best. He asks 2 questions of the black church that could be asked of any church: What is the mission of the church - to save souls or bodies? And, is the church called to save its own life or called to lose its life for the sake of others?



Its amazing how easily a church can find itself sustaining itself. We're trying to find a church at the moment. We visit a church and we know that they have lots of jobs for you to fill and we suspect that when they see us in the pew, they see someone to fill their vacancies. it makes us wonder who they are for - is the church for the people or the people for the church?

I'm absolutely certain there is something outwardly unimpressive ('failed') about a church that decides not to use its energies to prop itself up. There is only a limited amount of energy and time out there and a church that chooses to use that to serve others or just let people rest is going to look unprofessional, limited, 'failed'. But herein lies its real success that, like Jesus, it chooses the path of unimpressive success. For me, its not the ultimate vindication of Jesus in the resurrection that makes Jesus' work a success - success is to build nothing in his lifetime, except to be prophetic in his unpolitical, uncompromising defence of the weak.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Evangelicals ended slavery!


Evangelicals, Quakers and other Christians were a significant influence in ending slavery, but initially attempts to change things were pretty pragmatic - gradual change was proposed. But something happened in the 1820s that radicalised a small proportion of the population of North America to insist on immediate and uncompromising abolition of slavery. What was it? This is how Professor Blight of Yale University answers that question:

"First, it was Evangelical Christianity. Some of the radicalism they took from their faith. They took from the so-called Second Great Awakening. They took from this idea that somehow, it was their duty, it was their place in the world...to save souls...it was only one step further--and Finney told them that--to save society as well. And if conversion to Christ or conversion to faith, conversion to salvation, can happen immediately in a person, why not a whole society? If you can revolutionize a single soul, why can't you revolutionize a hundred, 100,000, 1,000,000?... We're living in a different kind of era of Evangelicalism in the United States--although some Evangelicals are indeed reformers, they tend to be seen today largely as political conservatives, social conservatives. Some of the Evangelicalism of the 1820s in America, in the 1830s, became a much more radical kind of Evangelicalism in terms of the social changes that they were advocating."

The false dichotomy between saving souls for another world and saving the world itself, was clearly not understood by nineteenth century evangelicals. Certainly, my research on the period confirms this and has revealed Christianity's relationship to slavery to having been a broadly positive one.
For anyone interested in reading the full transcipt or watching the lecture, it can be found here.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

I am an atheist!

I found the lyrics of this video interesting. It implies to me that the question of whether or not there is a God is a side-issue and always was, until the Enlightenment wanted to make an issue of it. Up until then, the debate was - what kind of God do you have? Is it a God of power or justice? Not, is there a God? The Bible was certainly written in a context in which the Enlightenment question 'Is there a God?' was irrelevant. In fact, early Christians were accused of being atheists.

Today, as always the question is - what kind of God do you have? Or, to ask this same question with 'secular' language: What do you value most highly? I find this video interesting because it does not put atheists on one side and theists on the other - rather it puts those interested in justice and love on one side (whether religious or not) and those who hurt and abuse on the other (whether religious or not). The issue of whether they believe in God or not is secondary.

No Justice for Binyam!

You may remember that in November we campaigned for the closure of Guantanamo and we wrote postcards to Binyam Mohammad. See video of Mohammad's testimony here.

This week his lawyers asked the courts to order the release of documents held by the Foreign Office, which support his claims and implicate UK intelligence services. The 2 Lord Chief Justice's said that it was "plainly right" to publish this "powerful evidence", but that Milliband had blocked its release, because the US had threatened to stop sharing intelligence if it were made public.

So, is Binyam going to get no justice for being held without trial and tortured? It seems might is right after all. Clearly in the UK the government is not subject to the courts, but visa versa! Let's protest against this outrageous denial of a human beings right.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Our kids are miserable!



After reading about The Children's Society report, I can't get it out of my head. Here are a few of their findings:

One in six British children have serious emotional or behavioural problems. Children today, it said, are unhappier now than 30 years ago. It said, "Between the lines can be gleaned the uncomfortable truth that many children today are deprived, not of money, but of parental time and love." Two-thirds of children believe their parents 'getting on well' is one of the most important factors in their lives, but only a third of parents thought it mattered that much. And it doesn't seem to matter if they're rich or poor.

What's more, it didn't blame any nebulous social factors. It said that children are unhappy and there is one overwheliming cause - excessive individualism. This is the widespread belief that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than to contribute to the lives of others.

It's sobering stuff, especially for someone with children. There does seem to be something about our society that just cries out, "Unhappy". Startling increases in suicide, anorexia, insomnia and depression. Two boys from my school (in seperate incidents) committed suicide over Christmas! What is going on? Yet, anyone would think from the news coverage that the pressing issue of our day is not unhappiness, but the credit crunch! And all of us (Christians included) are caught up in it all as victims and perpetrators simultaneously. How much are we imbibing the really unhelpful values of our society - almost without noticing?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Religion is a ship

“The Great Religions are the Ships…Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.” (Hafiz, a sufi)

I love this line from Hafiz and at certain points in my life it has meant a lot to me. I think the metaphor of religion as a ship is just brilliant and my imagination runs wild thinking of all its possibilities.

I must confess to having once thought of my faith as more of a rock than a ship. But I was being far too over-optimistic as I soon came to realise (the hard way) when the ship began to sink (rocks don't sink!).

Faith is a ship because it has by definition no external prop, but only the structural integrity and interplay of its component parts. When I came to realise this, I wanted to do exactly what Hafiz suggests - jump overboard! After all, if faith has no prop, then the ship (my faith) was just pretending to a certainty that never really existed. It would be better to jump overboard and roll with the waves. Maybe the uncertainties of the sea were scarier, but also more real.

Since realising that my faith did not have a solid foundation, I've come to realise that its survival relies in its being meaningful. I find Hafiz's image helpful here too. I'm presuming Hafiz had in mind sailing ships, rather than ships with engines. For me, the interaction of faith and culture is what sustains the meaningfulness of my faith just as the right interaction of sail with wind, directs the ship.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Mocking of Christ


Apologies for going on and on about my favourite pictures at the moment... but here's another one.

My previous blog reminded me of this picture. It is a Christian comment on Judaism quite different to the one presented in the film.

It was drawn in Austria during WW2. The picture is unmistakenly a picture of Jesus being mocked, with his scarlet robe, crown of thorns, beaten with sticks and the Roman ensignia on the sleeves of the soldier's clothes.

Yet, Jesus has the Jewish symbol as a clasp around his neck and the soldiers are dressed in Nazi uniform. Jesus is here on the side of the persecuted Jew. Jesus' Jewishness is right to the fore and the scapegoating of the Jews is made comparable to the scapegoating of Jesus.

Of course, this picture does not represent the only Christian voice against the mistreatment of Jews. Bonhoffer made a quite remarkable stand. I am not trying to diminish the culpability of Christianity in anti-semitism, but just want to balance this with another perspective that those of faith should find inspiring.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Jesus & anti-semitism

I was in school last week and asked what I thought of the first episode of "Christianity: a history". I had to confess that I hadn't seen it, but they were keen to give me a synopsis anyway. I gave my initial responses, which seemed to go down well, but I've watched it now online and here is my more considered reaction:


Its a programme about the role of Christianity on anti-semitism: the Jews, we are told were persecuted and murdered throughout the middle ages and beyond because they killed Jesus. The programme explores the responsibility of Christianity for the ill-treatment of Jews.

Of course, the fact that Jews could be persecuted or killed in the name of Jesus is very disturbing for anyone with any kind of sensitivity. It really is a shame that Christianity could not have more universally deplored the treatment of Jews as another example of scapegoating, on a par with the scapegoating of Jesus.

On the other hand, I have long been convinced that ideology (whether Christian or not) simply doesn't have that much power to control people's behaviour. I'm not saying that we are not influenced by our faith position - of course we are, but we also shape that faith position. I'm pretty confident that the persecution of any group occurs primarily for social, political and economic reasons, and ideologies are shaped to support what people want to do, rather than the other way around.

Anyway, on to the programme. It has, of course, all the typical hype of religious broadcasting - pretty conventional ideas (like Jesus was a Jew or baptism was originally a Jewish rite) are heralded as though they were groundbreaking new discoveries! I like its desire to restore Jesus to his original Jewishness. The programme asks:

"How does it harm a Christian's faith to restore Jesus to the jewish world in which he lived? Jesus never once expressed the intention of starting a new religion. His ambition was to renew Judaism, to reawaken it to its own grandeur, not to abolish it."

It was pretty poor, though, in its presentation of Paul. It presented now discredited scholarship as though it were accepted fact. Paul we are told was anti-Jewish. No quotes or evidence were given and I presume the TV makers weren't thinking about "There is no difference between Jew and Gentile we are all one in Christ Jesus". It is now commonly accepted that Paul wasn't critical of Jew per se (in Romans, for example), but Judaizers (Jewish Christians who claimed Gentile Christians should be circumcised etc). Paul was as thoroughly Jewish as Jesus was, and like Jesus, was not trying to start a new religion, but seeing the true expansion of Judaism to the whole world. Christianity wasn't a religion at all until some time after Paul's death.

Hints at animosity to some Jews is evident in the New Testament - I don't deny that. Post 70AD texts were written just as Judaism was throwing Christians out of the synagogue. But anti-semitism itself is a creation of the Middle Ages and served the political and social agenda of the middle ages.

Will Christianity, I wonder, ever recover its tarnished image or forever be seen as the tool of oppression? I wonder if Channel 4 will show the other side of Christianity - the way it has been a tool for liberation and equality as much as oppression. What can Christians do today to present an alternative vision of what Christianity is all about?

The programme can still be watched here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Who is my neighbour?


I read Mark Powell's comments on the Good Samaritan some time ago - but its one of those comments that sticks with you. I came back to it again recently and thought it was worth a post. Here it is:

"I have heard, read, preached and taught this tale for decades - mostly in mainline, middle-class Protestant churches... the general consensus has always been that the 'moral of the story' is that we ought to be willing to help anyone in need. Our commitment to relieving human suffering ought to transcend political, ethnic and other sorts of rivalries... So I was a little surprised when I went to live in Tanzania and discovered that many people there understand the story differently. The 'moral of the story', these Tanzanians told me, is that people who have been beaten, robbed and left for dead cannot afford the luxury of prejudice. They will (and should) accept help from whoever offers it. When grain is brought to a famished village, parents of starving children do not much care whether the Muslims, Roman Catholics or the Jehovah's Witnesses bring it... In short, the story was understood to answer the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' not with 'whoever needs my help', but with 'whoever helps me'.

As I shared this illustration in the United States, I found that many American Christians smile at the Tanzanians' reading of the familiar tale, regarding it as a quaint misunderstanding. But who is to say which understanding is correct? The variant interpretations are obtained through empathy choice: Americans tend to identify with the men walking down the road... Tanzanians, however, tend to identify with the person in the ditch and consider the question from his perspective. Obviously, one can do either, but I think it is interesting to note the exact wording of the question that is posed in Luke's Gospel... "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" He does not ask, "Which of these three regarded the injured man as his neighbour?"...

...The main point of the story was that religious leaders... need to evaluate their faith and life from the perspective of the marginalised people of the earth."

I find this quote by Powell striking as an example of what we can learn by reading the text from the perspective of the oppressed, and how much we can bring our priviliged position to the reading of a text. It has often made me read other texts differently by making me ask: who am I empathising with here?

Maybe in the light of some of our recent blogs about who is good - the answer always needs to asked from the perspective of the oppressed - those who do good to the poor, the suffering and the needy, regardless of their faith profession!
(once again I have taken the opportunity to choose one of my favourite images of the good samaritan).

Monday, 19 January 2009

The cross is enough?

I went for a run with Schof on Saturday and he took me on a wild goose chase around the peak district (i.e. got me lost and sent me on a one and an hour run). "It's just over the next hill", he said about 5 times! Anyway, I'm not bitter, just can't stand up!

Anyway, a run with Schof, though painful in some ways, is a delight in others. We were chatting about repentence in the Christian circles we had been in. I recalled a prayer meeting where everyone decided to pray long prayers of confession to God. Of course, I'm all up for a bit of confession, but I came out of this prayer meeting saying, "What was that?!"

People were praying about sins that clearly haunted them, but wouldn't say what they were. I found it such a pity that they felt so guilty that they couldn't say what they were and that they couldn't just be honest about their failings. I had my suspicion about what they felt guilty about, and I suspect it wasn't murder or rape!

I just wish Christianity could be for them a place where they do not need to pretend to be 'good people', but can be honest about the fact that they are failed people. The 'being a Christian makes you good' myth just makes people feel they need to pretend they are good and feel utterly ashamed that they are not. I just wish people could be happy with themselves. Schof's comment was that evangelicals are suprisingly not very good at repentence, particularly for people who believe that the cross finally and completly dealt with their sins!

I am personally enjoying my newly acquired contentment with my sin! I have included the picture above, because I've always loved this image of the warm embrace of the Prodigal Son - wrapped in his father's arms, he is forgiven.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Give us this day... kentucky fried chicken


So, I was in the staff room and someone says, "I've got this religious joke I've been saving up for you and keep forgetting to tell you it", and off he went:

The head of Kentucky Fried Chicken managed to get an audience with the pope on one of his trips to America.

'Can you please change a line of the Lord's Prayer", he asked, "to 'Give us this day kentucky fried chicken?'
'O no, I can't do that' said the Pope.
'If I give you $10 million would you do it?'
'No, I couldn't change the Lord's Prayer'
'Ok, if I give you $50 million would you change it?'
'No, I'm really sorry, I couldn't change the Lord's Prayer for anything.'
'What about for $100 million?'
This time the pope was tempted, 'OK', he says, 'for $100 million I'll change the Lord's Prayer.'
So, the Pope goes back home to the Vatican and tells his Cardinals, 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is I've brought back $100 million from America. The bad news is ... we've lost the deal with Hovis!"

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Are Christians better people?

On Monday evening we were treated to a fantastic three-course meal, cooked up by Schof and a great discussion with friends around the question, "Are Christians better people?"

Many thanks to Schof for his great cooking and leading of the discussion!

This is what I can remember from the discussion - maybe other people can fill in the blanks:


          • There was a brief discussion about what 'good' actually means. eg. a person hasn't been divorced? A person does their quiet time every day? I think we were in agreement that many of the definitions of 'good' presented in traditional Christianity were unhelpful.


          • It was pointed out that statistics have shown that the behaviour of 'fundamentalist' Christians (by the criteria of the questionairre) were better than the ordinary population. This was put down to social conditioning by our group.


          • I think we were pretty much in agreement that the traditional Christian message that if you become a Christian you become a better person is just simply not true in our experience and creates unrealistic expectations.


          • We were challenged to think about some of the Bible passages (especially in the letters) which suggest that if you become a Christian you do change and become a better person. There were various responses to this. Some found it difficult to read some Bible verses without interpreting in the way they had been brought up to interpret them. I think I said a few (heretical) things about defining the 'good' / 'holy' / 'people of God' not by the contours of 'Christians', but by 'those who do good'. This could include people of faith or not, Christians or not. I tried to support this by reference to the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. I'm not sure others were particularly convinced.

          • We ended with communion - a very fitting demonstration of the 'openness' of the table of God to everyone and our unity before him.

          It seems pretty self-evident to me that 'doing good' should define who 'the good' are and that if these happen to be those outside of our faith tradition, so be it. However, I want to rise to the challenge of Monday night and try to argue that point in the light of biblical texts that might be read to the contrary. So, please post the passages you would challenge me to respond to and I will see what I can do.

          Monday, 5 January 2009

          Are Christians Better People?

          So this is 2009 and the Cadburys Cream Eggs are in the shops already.

          Did you make any new years resolutions (bad idea according to the bbc)? I did/didn't. I made some 'decisions about how to create a pattern of life in 2009' :-)

          Why did I do that? Like any change there are push and pull factors:

          Push - I don't like myself much sometimes when i get snared in sin and there are bits of my life that are in a mess because of it. I need more discipline if I am vaguely serious about being an apprentice of Jesus.

          Pull - I am attracted to simplicity and making space for God, confession, celebration and service in everyday life as well as the big stuff. I want to be more Christlike (not just in personal piety but also because I want to play my own small unique part in continuing the Xmas story of peace coming) because that feels more like being alive than anything else.

          Having said that i am also:

          a) Cautious about being religious, trying to earn grace, doing it for the wrong reasons - I refer again to whose desire do i desire
          b) Confident in a God who lives in me and can do more than imaginable & i work in 'development' so I see people grow/change all the time
          c) Realistic - I might get new tools but can I actually change much, I mean really change? The stats and anecdotals aren't always as good as those 'I was a gangsta and now i am a minista' headlines - Naked Pastor comment1/comment2, Engage chat, Stats from USA1 Stats 2, Beliefnet article. (Though this piece by Matthew Parris (a famous (and humble) Atheist) is a welcome addition to the debate)
          d) Concerned that this discussion just descends into an ugly 'who is really in/out and therefore counts' debate or that the whole thing is based around the wrong definition of 'better' or more likely the wrong starting question.

          So....help me out here....

          The next engage F2F will be a meal (free) at 105 Murray Rd 8pm Mon 12th Jan. It will be an open chat about the question 'Are Christians Better People?' Come and talk to the person next to you, to the whole table or just listen or just eat or any of the above. There will be some readings to chew on between courses, and oh yeah, bring your mobile so you can twitter your own reflections if you want to. Look forward to seeing you there or getting your comments below - HNY