Friday, December 31, 2010

So that was 2010

2010 has been a good year :)

Best thing about the year was the arrival of child #4 - a bit nerve-wracking to begin with, but she's doing fine now. Definitely the last one!

Worst thing was probably the national press & TV catching up with last year's events.

I managed to sail quite a bit - but have come to the conclusion that the boat just has to be sold, as we need a second car and can't afford to run both (can't really afford the boat at all... took three years to work that out!) Probably going to sell the motorbike too - no point having that and a car.

Managed to get some interest in my book from publishers, but nothing substantial yet. I'll keep plugging away at that in the background.

Carried on with therapy on a weekly basis - I think I'm much calmer than I was.

Had a bit of a wobble in September and thought about leaving Mersea (tempted by a couple of jobs) but dearly beloved put me back on the straight and narrow path, TBTG :) I am starting to 'fizz' again with lots of ideas for things that might be done over the next several years.

Carried on watching films and some TV series - got up to date with Doctor Who, also enjoyed Lost and Fringe, Dexter most of all :) I dropped Sky Sports (which I miss) and Sky Movies - replaced the latter with Lovefilm which, on the whole, I'm happy with so far.

Also bought a PS3, so that I could play Bioshock 2 (brilliant) and several others. Just finished Red Dead Redemption - review to come.

I started to lose weight - from a high of 17 stone 10 pounds I did get down to 15 stone 10 pounds, but have been stable at just under 16 for the last six weeks or so (despite indulgence at Christmas!). Definite challenge for the New Year will be to carry on losing the weight, and also to get back into the habit of regular exercise.

Had a shave. And a haircut.

I feel that there has been an awful lot going on underneath the surface. I have high hopes for what 2011 will bring.

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mourinho's bitter legacy

So Rafa has been sacked. Well how do you follow the special one? Similar problems with Avram Grant and Big Phil.

Is it not the case, though, that a true measure of greatness is less how much success you are able to drive through by force of personality and talent, but rather how much success others are able to enjoy once you have gone?

In other words, rather than be proud of a large catch of fish, is it not better to leave a legacy of many fishermen?

(I'm not doubting Mourinho's innate ability, just saying that he needs to stay somewhere for the long run.)

Fifteen films meme

This is an interesting one (from Khanya). "The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen films you’ve seen that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen films you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes."

Not in order of preference.
1. American Beauty (as I've just reposted a 'review' of it!)
2. Blade Runner
3. Magnolia
4. Fight Club
5. First Blood
6. Life of Brian
7. An American Werewolf in London
8. Un Couer en Hiver
9. Star Wars
10. Vanilla Sky
11. The Matrix
12. The Truman Show
13. Lawrence of Arabia
14. The Passion of the Christ
15. Good Will Hunting

If you read this, consider yourself tagged.

Why I like 'American Beauty'

A talk given to a church film group, Feast of the Epiphany 2001 (first blogged 17th July 2005)

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, when the three Kings came to worship the infant Jesus and give him presents. At least, that is how we celebrate it in the Western church. What Epiphany is really about is the manifestation of God in human form, the word made flesh, the incarnation. In other words, it continues and completes the theme of Christmas as a whole. So what does this have to do with a film about someone who, in his daughter’s words, is a ‘lame-o’, ‘some horny geek-boy who’s gonna spray his shorts whenever [she] brings a girlfriend home from school’?

That’s what I want to say a few things about today. But a general point to begin with: I really enjoy watching films, primarily for their narrative content, but also – under Rolanda’s influence – for more filmic qualities as well. Narrative is for me the clearest vehicle for teaching anything about theology: if nothing else, theology is about human meaning, and the only way we can really absorb it is if we see it lived out through a story. So, if this works out OK and is of interest, there may well be further ‘showings’ when I indulge my own interests, and teach theology through film.

So, back to the horny geek-boy. American Beauty is about a man who saves his soul – it is a story of redemption. Lester is a man who has ‘lost something’ – he feels sedated, as if he has been in a coma for twenty years. He is estranged from his wife and daughter, but, just as important, he is completely estranged from himself, from his own passions. His wife and daughter think that he is a loser – and he doesn’t fight that assessment. He has given up. At the end of the film, this has all changed. In his own words, he’s ‘great’. So, how did this change come about?

The moment when the ice cracked was when he saw this sixteen year old nymphet dancing as a cheerleader. As is shown quite clearly in the film, this is a revelation to Lester, a true Epiphany. He sees something glorious and it sparks his passions into life, he starts to desire something again. Now, put to one side for the moment the questionable nature of this attraction, we can come back to that in our discussion afterwards. What I want to emphasise is that his desires are reawakened; in other words, his instinctual, bodily, carnal appetites.

Now, there is quite a good tradition in Christian thinking, which tends to get systematically overlooked in Western culture, about desire as the means to approach God. And desire is rooted in sexual attraction. This doesn’t mean that all our aesthetics, our understanding of beauty, can be reduced in Freudian fashion to misplaced sexual urges; it is to say that our sexuality is a gift, and a foundation for what can come later. In other words, what I am saying is the precise opposite of what Western Christian teaching has often held to be the case: that our sexuality is a dangerous inheritance from the fall, which must be repudiated or at the very least disciplined into submission. On the contrary, our desire is often a path to God, if we can but be honest about our true desires. Think of Augustine’s famous saying, Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

“…There may be higher states of vision. It may be possible ultimately to love God free from all form. But it is certainly better for man to love God in a form to which he can respond, and which has meaning for him, than it is to imagine he is loving a formless God when really he is simply committed to a spiritual vacuum. For in this way – in this loving of the divine in the creature – he is at least in touch with the Divinity. It is not for nothing that the great Andalusian spiritual master, Ibn Arabi, can say that the sages who enjoy the most perfect vision of God are those who can contemplate him in a woman.”
(Philip Sherrard, Christianity and Eros)


The whole point of the incarnation is that God can be found in the things of this world, if only we see them the right way.

So, back to Lester. Lester is having a mid-life crisis, and realising that all the things which he has been working for these past twenty years are actually worthless. This comes out most in the conversation he has with his wife, the opportunity for a reconciliation lost because of the importance of keeping a couch pristine. Although his wife’s character, like almost all in the film, is somewhat stereotypical they are fleshed out enough to be believable. And in this film the wife stands for a certain materialistic, career oriented ambition: her desires are focused on the world, her child raising is geared around success – ‘you didn’t screw up once’ – and material wealth ‘when I was your age…’ and even her adultery is lensed through her career goals. This is what Lester is walking away from. I think it appropriately symbolic that the first time we see him he is masturbating in the shower, the high point of his day. He is completely enclosed within himself.

Now the tagline of the film was ‘look closer’, and this is brought out most clearly with the video of the bag blowing in the wind. Ricky, remember, is the one who teaches Lester to let go, to the extent of seeking a job with the minimum amount of responsibility. He has what for me is the most important line in the film. When he is talking to Jane about why he films the things that he does, he says ‘When you see something like that, it’s like God is looking right at you, just for a second. And if you’re careful, you can look right back’. Jane asks what he sees, and the answer is simple: ‘beauty’. Ricky has what can be quite strictly characterised as a mystical outlook on life. All things hang together, they are meaningful and they are beautiful. In the course of the film, Lester absorbs this perspective, so much that by the end of the film, after he has been murdered, he is able to give thanks for ‘every single moment of my stupid little life’.

Some people commented to me that they were upset that Lester is killed at the end. To my mind that is a sign that the point has been missed. Our culture is terrified of death – it is the great taboo, and the dark side of the emphasis upon youth and sexuality – a diseased emphasis, to be sure. For me, American Beauty is a profoundly orthodox film – it is informed by a true perspective on the world, which doesn’t accept the values that the world provides, but transcends them. There are of course, other Christian motifs running through the film, but I don’t want to spell everything out. I’d like to finish with another extract from Sherrard:

“…the truth is that our heritage – and in it Christian (or what is called Christian) morality, according to which sexual love is at its best a frailty, at its worst damnation, has played its not insignificant part – has directed us into a way of life, or death, in which this energy is degraded and prostituted on every side. It has directed us into a way of life, or death, in which a person may be born into any one of our proliferating megalopolitan monstrosities and may go through the whole number of his years upon earth without ever once becoming conscious of the beauty of such a simple thing as a tree on the pavement catching the lamplight or as the rain falling.”

Or the beauty of a bag blowing in the wind.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Zossima

"It was said that so many people had for years past come to confess their sins to Father Zossima and to entreat him for words of advice and healing, that he had acquired the keenest intuition and could tell from an unknown face what a new-comer wanted, and what was the suffering on his conscience. He sometimes astounded and almost alarmed his visitors by his knowledge of their secrets before they had spoken a word.

"Alyosha noticed that many, almost all, went in to the elder for the first time with apprehension and uneasiness, but came out with bright and happy faces. Alyosha was particularly struck by the fact that Father Zossima was not at all stern. On the contrary, he was always almost gay. The monks used to say that he was more drawn to those who were more sinful, and the greater the sinner the more he loved him."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thought for the day (on worship)

When we praise God, we are offering worship - we are saying 'God you are so awesome wonderful amazing' etc.

The important thing is that the praise, the worship is directed towards the object of that worship.

So the language itself is a means to an end. It is the finger pointing at the moon.

So is everything else associated with it - the prayers, the music, the silence.

All those things might be wonderful and worthy of praise in their own right - they might be marvellous language (eg KJV, BCP) - they might be gloriously sublime music (Allegri's Miserere, Tavener) - they might be profoundly affecting silence - but if these means become ends in themselves, if they become the focal point of attention, then whatever is being done is no longer worship.

And when that happens, what the believer needs to do is to go without them, to fast, in order that these wonderful elements might be re-placed into their proper position.

For the excellence of what is offered - when considered separately to the act of offering itself - is a spiritual snare. It is to offer out of an imagined bounty, not to give the widow's mite. It is to say 'I thank you that I'm not like those uncultured heathens with their praise songs (/prayer book societies/ beers'n'hymns/ high mass/ whatever - delete as applicable)'.

I suppose I'm saying: genuine worship begins with 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'; and 'I am nothing, I am no longer worthy to be called your son'; and also 'yet what I can I give him, give him my heart'.

If we have our attention on God - everything else will fall naturally into place, and everything else will flourish and be excellent. Yet if we have our attention on those excellent things, then they distract us from God, and then we find ourselves bewildered and lost, tied up in sin.

The first commandment must come first.

Augustine had it right - as so often: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growth in discipleship #3

I want to try and answer my own question from the last post in this sequence: "do we provide a context within which people can enter in all sorts of different ways?"

Four different 'shapes' - and recognising that we are all a blend of them: active experimentation ('doing'); concrete experience ('feeling'); reflective observation ('watching' - actually I think 'imagining' is better); and abstract conceptualisation ('thinking'). Let's call them earth, water, fire and air ;o) And of course - and essentially - they all feed into each other.

So what we'd need, to have a healthy environment within which people can grow as disciples, are places where:
- we can get on with the 'doing', eg serving the community - classic example: soup kitchen;
- we can get on with the 'feeling', eg pastoral care - classic example: home visiting;
- we can get on with the 'imagining', eg creative arts and liturgy - classic example: the eucharistic liturgy; and
- we can get on with the 'thinking', eg doing theology - classic example: bible study.

The questions, therefore, are: do these characterisations work to sum up how people can get involved in the faith (these are the different paths by which people can come in - have we covered all the bases?); and - and here's the kicker - what do we have in place by which people can do this?

Here on Mersea, my initial thought is that we are pretty healthy (tho' not perfect!!) on the latter three, but there's quite a gap with the first.

The moral character of beauty

A question asked by RevSimmy in the comments: "the equation of the aesthetic and the moral - i.e. beautiful art/music has a moral effect. Do we agree? Why (/not)?"

I would say: yes, I have no doubt that beauty has an effect on character, partly from watching this programme recently (and I've purchased the book, but haven't read it yet).

Of course, this is a complicated proposal. I happen to think that the Weeping Woman of Picasso is also tremendously beneficial to character - but I'm not sure I would count it as beautiful, even though I could (and have) spent ages contemplating it.

I feel on stronger ground when thinking about architecture - I think the living environment affects how we live, both directly and indirectly.

And of course music....

What do people think?

Scruton's programme is available on Youtube, part 1 here:

TBTM20101218


R Vaughan Williams' preface to the 1906 English Hymnal.

Fascinating stuff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The original plan was...

Had to dig out the original 'parish profile' for the Mersea benefice - all sorts of fascinating stuff in it - but included was my original application to the clergy appointments adviser when I was looking for a job somewhere.

Question on form: "What is the meaning of your ministry and where do you think God is calling you in the future? In other words, 'What are you realistically looking for?'"

My answer:
"I would say that the centre of my vocation is 'the ministry of word and sacrament' - hackneyed, but true nonetheless. I believe that I have particular gifts in the sphere of teaching and writing, structured by a strong academic training but rooted deeply in orthodox Anglican Christianity, seeking to express itself through following the teaching and example of the Christian mystics. My orientation is towards the church and cloister, not the academy.

"I seek for these gifts to bear fruit in a Eucharistic community: where I can talk the talk, walk the walk, and, by God's grace, kneel the kneel also. My most fundamental motivations are pastoral, and I view Eucharistic ministry as the opposite side of that pastoral coin - they are one thing, viewed from different sides. I am competent at public liturgy and practical administration, and I would wish to develop my potential in these spheres. I am less good at 'Youth Ministry' - partly from my deafness, partly from temperament, partly from doubt as to its validity. I am also not the best at polishing practical details or at tying up loose ends and finishing jobs.

"I conclude that I need the following: a Eucharistic community, in which I can exercise my priestly ministry. A balance of life between different elements of public engagement, pastoral ministry and private prayer. The ability to develop as a contemplative and teacher of the faith. A chance to put down roots and cultivate 'stabilitas'. The possibility of training as a spiritual director in due course. Such a combination might be found in various different guises and I have no determined sense about what shape it will take. My ideal would be a small parish of my own on the East coast. I am sure that God will make his intentions clear to me at the appropriate moment."

Not sure I'd say much different today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TBTE20101215


Some links:
Matthew Burrows (Jon Evens - are you familiar with him?)

How much coal is left? Not a lot. More than we think. Both stories from The Oil Drum, probably the best energy blog on the planet.

Why free online lectures will destroy universities.

A throwback look to my favourite film (Magnolia).

Bishops urged to take up social media. Perhaps one will become as good as Sarah Palin.

The crisis of the American intellectual.

And finally, here is something ("Disinviting Islam") which I need to emphasise that I don't fully agree with, but the response will take some time to flesh out - and will be on my other blog.

Film notes

Cemetery Junction 3/5 Sweet
Where the Truth Lies 4/5 Oddly fascinating (not as good as Sweet Hereafter)
Enter the Dragon 3/5 reliving my adolescent Bruce Lee fandom
Fantastic Mr Fox 4/5 cleverly done
Diary of the Dead 5/5 owned this for about 18 months but put off watching it as I had very low expectations after the reviews, but thought it was great - can now see where Walking Dead got some of their ideas from (unless both were from the original graphic novel). Romero on form - but, obviously, for fans only.
Nine 2.5/5 Turned this off after half an hour. All the tinsel and none of the tree.
A Perfect Getaway 3.5/5 Surprisingly watchable. Also surprised to see some genuine acting skill from Milla Jovovich - I'm used to her Resident Evil persona, so nice to see her being human.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One Artist meme

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Be as clever as you can. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think...


Pick your Artist: Martyn Joseph

Describe yourself: Liberal Backslider

How do you feel: I have come to sing

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Vegas

Your favourite form of transportation: Walk down the mountain

Your best friend is a: Gift to me

You and your best friends are: Contradictions

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: Whoever it was that brought me here will have to take me home

What is life to you: This fragile world

Your current relationship: My love, my life

Your fear: Nobody loves you anymore

What is the best advice you have to give: Kiss the world beautiful

I would like to die: Carried in sunlight

Time of day: Let's talk about it in the morning

My motto: Yet still this will not be

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cruel leniency

“Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine of life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
(Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Something I'm pondering.

What I really think about the student fees controversy

"In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside...

I am quite aware that we have just now lightheartedly expelled in imagination many excellent men who are largely, perhaps chiefly, responsible for the buildings of the temple of science; and in many cases our angel would find it a pretty ticklish job to decide. But of one thing I feel sure: if the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have come to be, any more than a forest can grow which consists of nothing but creepers. For these people any sphere of human activity will do, if it comes to a point; whether they become engineers, officers, tradesmen, or scientists depends on circumstances. Now let us have another look at those who have found favor with the angel. Most of them are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics, than the hosts of the rejected. What has brought them to the temple? That is a difficult question and no single answer will cover it. To begin with, I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman's irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity...

The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart...."

(Albert Einstein, here)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacralized spectating

My new subtitle for the blog, the explanation for which can be found in this old post, and, a bit more technically, here.

I think I am finally starting to move. That is, I know where I need to plod to...

This ancient holy island

I've been thinking about an article I read in the local paper recently, which discussed the creation of 'The Strood' - which is the causeway that links Mersea Island with the island of Great Britain. I now discover that the article can be found on the Mersea Museum website here, and it references an academic article that can be found here (pdf).

Key points:

- the Strood was not built by the Romans, but by the Anglo-Saxons;
- it can be fairly firmly dated, to between 684 and 702 AD;
- the creation of the Strood would have been a major engineering project which "suggests the presence on the island of a sufficiently important feature to merit such a structure and also a substantial financial expenditure on the part of somebody or some organisation able to afford it";
- Essex at this time was an independent Kingdom (and so it should be again!);
- the King of Essex at the relevant time was Saint Sebbi;
- we know that the Anglo-Saxons founded a Minster church, of Benedictine character (linked with Rouen if memory serves) on the Island, probably in the 'early 8th century';

all leading to the slightly speculative conclusion "What can be more likely than that the saintly King Sebbi took a personal interest in the construction of the minster church at Mersea?"

A Minster church, of Benedictine character, founded by one who was "much addicted to religious actions, almsgiving, and frequent prayer".

I find it remarkable how a place can have a particular spirit - and, unknowing of all this, it's uncanny how it ties in to what I've been pursuing in the benefice over the last couple of years, especially my sense that the Rule of St Benedict provides all that the parish needs.

So. Society of Saint Sebbi anyone? (Feast day is August 29 - clashes with Greenbelt!!)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gandalf's Hope

I'm setting up another new blog, called 'Gandalf's Hope'; I want a place to park my more political rantings, and I think there is an argument for specialising. As with my other blogs, there will normally be a link here to what is posted there (it'll begin simply with transferring some old political posts to that venue).

Embracing St Benedict (as opposed to Killing George Herbert)

This is from his Rule, on 'The Character of the Abbot':

“It is seemly for the abbot to be ever doing some good for his brethren rather than to be presiding over them. He must, therefore, be learned in the law of God, that he may know whence to bring forth things new and old; he must be chaste, sober, and merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy. Let him hate sin and love the brethren. And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence, and not go too far, lest while he seek too eagerly to scrape off the rust, the vessel be broken. Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes, and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. And by this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up; but that prudently and with charity he should cut them off, in the way he shall see best for each, as we have already said; and let him study rather to be loved than feared. Let him not be violent nor over anxious, not exacting nor obstinate, not jealous nor prone to suspicion, or else he will never be at rest. In all his commands, whether spiritual or temporal, let him be prudent and considerate. In the works which he imposes let him be discreet and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, when he said: 'If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all perish in one day'. Taking, then, such testimonies as are borne by these and the like words to discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things, that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm.”

That's an ideal I could aim at.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Growth in discipleship 2

Lots of interesting comments on my first post on this, here and on Facebook. I'll concentrate on the things that I agree with.

First: learning styles. Yes, this absolutely needs to be taken into account. One model that I've liked is this one:

Second: the list in the last post can be jumbled up and shuffled around - it's not a linear process I mostly agree with this, but not totally.

Put these two together and we'd have more of a spiral staircase, with lots of different access points. So the question becomes - do we provide a context within which people can enter in all sorts of different ways?

Those learning styles: Activist - Theorist - Reflector - Pragmatist. How do they fit into 'learning how to be a Christian'?

Third: a comment from Tim on FB, "The problem as I see it is that the NT does not present the apostles and early missionaries as leading Christians through ten-week courses. This doesn't mean that they didn't grow disciples, though. I tried the 'course' approach for years and it just didn't work for anything more than a minority of people in our context. I also noted that even those who had been through the courses were not necessarily practising the disciplines they had learned about. So I've come to the conclusion that the old-fashioned one-on-one approach may well be best. It seems to be working better for me anyway." I liked this a lot, not least because it chimed with my last talk on St Benedict, wherein he described what the Abbot was supposed to do (how he was supposed to be) which was to focus on the monks as individuals. Raises the ghost of George Herbert again though...

So "What would Jesus do?" - in the ASB ordinal the priest is enjoined to 'set the Good Shepherd always before [you] as the pattern of [your] calling'. I can see the following:
- plenty of private prayer time and solitude getting intimate with the Father;
- work with a small group of the 'inner three';
- work with a small group of 'the twelve';
- work with a wider group of disciples (and where Mary Mag?)
- generalised teaching to crowds primarily with parables but also with healing/exorcisms
- prophetic drama and public debate with the religious authorities.

I would say that he modelled a particular understanding of faith, and lived it in the circumstances in which he found himself.

(I'm not sure that he did much of what might today be called 'public service' or 'good works' - that seems to be a liberal distraction - things that make us 'good people' rather than 'people of God' - not that there's anything wrong with being a 'good person'!)

OK time run out; still thinking about this; more later.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Christmas list for Santa (for Chelsea!)

Dear Santa,

I know that Chelsea are not necessarily numbered amongst the 'good boys' but in case you're able to drop some presents down their chimney, I thought I'd send you this list anyway.

1. Carlo Ancelotti stays in post. We really don't need any more messiness at the club. I realise it's a bit of a forlorn hope, but it's #1 on this list for a reason.

2. An established English centre-back in their mid twenties. We have a bit of a hole in our team structure, and one of these would certainly fill it (Gary Cahill for preference).

3. An established striker in their early/mid twenties. Drogba is great, Anelka is marvellous, but they're both the wrong side of 30 and we need someone in between them and the Sturridges of this world. That's why it would have been great to have claimed Rooney - however unrealistic - it showed up the gap.

Not much then :) Thanks for reading,

A Chelski fan

My posts on Palin

Prior to a lengthy review of America By Heart, which I greatly enjoyed.

First comment - and I really should avoid predictions(!)
Alaskan values and the character of leadership
A bit more about Palin
Our image of Palin
On disagreeing with Mrs Palin
My review of Going Rogue: A Woman of Substance


And a general one: some political confessions.

I never expected the gray champion to wear lipstick.

Growth in discipleship

If you go to a school of Martial Arts, there is a clear structure describing how you grow from a complete beginner to someone who has proficiency (helpfully marked out by different coloured belts). The same scheme applies in all sorts of other areas. It doesn't really apply in the church, and I wonder if that is a problem. In other words, I wonder if a clear structure setting out how we understand what it means to grow as a Christian would be of some use. As a first sketch, how about this:

Alpha

Post-Alpha

Confirmation course and confirmation

House groups and regular attendance at worship

Private prayer and becoming comfortable with silence

Regular and formal bible study, also some doctrine and church history

Service to church

Service to community


What do people think? What is missing?

Of course, having something like this offends against all sorts of shibboleths, eg that we are all of equal value in the sight of the Lord (true, but irrelevant). It begs the question of whether it is possible to be more 'advanced' in the faith than others. Yet I don't believe anyone actually thinks that there isn't a difference - it's just that it is only acceptable to talk about such differences when the people being mentioned are a long way away, either in time or space.

I can't avoid thinking that there is a distinct gap in our formation of new disciples, and we need something to plug that gap. (NB I'm aware that the Emmaus course covers much of this).

Friday, December 03, 2010

How I think the church will grow

"Indians had learned to look on us missionaries as friends, as people who would help them, and as good workers, but they had not yet learned to look on us as men and women of God." (Quoted in Praying Hyde).

The church will grow when people perceive that here there are men and women of God.

And that will come about when we become men and women of God.

And that will come about when we put the first commandment first.

Let us pray.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ah, Church

Found this from here, via Graham, and thought I'd share it as it impinges on several conversations being had within the benefice:

Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.

4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.

5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.

6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.

7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.

8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.

10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.

12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.

13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14. Be vulnerable.

15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.

17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.

18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.

19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.


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No comments for now, although I don't agree with all of it.