Yesterday I was Changing for Good, but for one day only. No, it doesn’t sound any better the other way round. In English this meant I spent a wonderful day being semi-enthused and semi-offended by Steve Chalke, thoroughly motivated by Paul Blakey, really inspired by Jane Cook and refreshingly entertained by Applecart .
I will start with “the star”. Now to put this in context I have to explain I was a child of the mid-late 80’s Baptist church youth group. Therefore as a teenager I was subjected to video upon video of Chalke and occassionally him talking in person, (he was the preferred eye candy of youth leaders of the time). The only noteable talk of all this I remember was him getting a hall full of impressional kids to stand up if they would promise once they grew up and got good jobs rather than buying a Merc they would get a little car and spend the difference on funding a Christian worker for a year, I stood and meant it….just never had the money. The other thing I will remember, and more fondly, is that he was the inspiration for Christmas Cracker. This was a series of charity restraunts we did over a couple of years, most noteably in a shop which was closing down, and a series of community radio events at Christmas for a couple of years. (The relevance of this will be come apparent in a moment). As the years went on I remember seeing Chalke at Spring Harvest over the years and being midly pleased about his focus on social justice.
Yesterday he was giving a good message, and interestingly talked about how 5 years ago he opened up a community radio station in his church over August and this led to a reduction in crime. He happened to mention it to Gordon Brown and before you knew it it was a recognised crime reduction initiative and Chalke was on his way to becoming something to do with the UN. There was no mention of the fact he had been encouraging the use of community radio licences all those years before, he wanted it to start 5 years ago in yesterdays talk. But then, that’s Steve Chalke. He is a social entreperneur who has facilitated a heck of good work, and become part of the New Labour machine, (one gets the feeling from some of the comments yesterday about being on the phone to central government every day he is now part of the ConDem nation machine)….anyway, one can only be so cynical about somebody who has had the guts to face up to much of the evangelical establishment on various issues over the years and ensure that the “British Tradition” of mixing evangelicalism with social justice has been sustained.
Yesterday he said one thing to make me really angry though. He said that we have the wrong picture of God and the kingdom we are working towards is more of an occupation, like the Israeli occupation. There was no acknowledgement that such occupations might be wrong, rather he said the church should be taking that approach. This pisses me off because it is exactly that sort of approach which led to the attrocities committed by missionaries in partnership with the British government in the nineteenth century. More recently if any Palastinian had been in that room, (and whilst I don’t think they were it wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of possibility in Durham), it would have been even more offensive to them. Occupation is wrong. God does not want occupation, he wants positive active choice making based upon transformative love not violence.
Paul Blakey turned up with another Halifax Street Angel and a bloke from Hull Street Angels. Peter, who leads StreetLights up here, with his wife, also spoke. Now, ok I was going to be biased in this sort of session. I volunteer for StreetLights and am fully convinced of the benefit of these initiatives. However, what struck me was how Paul Blakey in particular was just an ordinary bloke. There was no trendy hair cut, he didn’t look like a Mac user, and he was up there talking about how they just got on with it up there. There is no doubt that Paul is an amazing bloke, looking at what he had achieved, but he is not full of himself, he just seemed like a nice ordinary bloke with no pretentions what so ever – so different from Steve Chalke. I loved this session which got real people talking about real issues in real communities.
In the afternoon I went to a seminar by Jane Cook, (one of the former WSC students), on spirituality and outdoor persuits. This session was chilled, laid back and inspiring. Jane again was talking to ordinary people about what they could do with people from their churches and communities. She went through a whole host of ideas and did some theological reflection on them. It was great and I really enjoyed her session. Again it was rooted in the real world and what was achieveable anywhere.
Finally I saw Applecart, who somehow hadn’t gotten on my radar at Greenbelt last year. Applecart were one of the most refreshing things I have seen in years. Basically they do theatre with a Christian theme in the real world. This means that it is the sort of thing you can take your granny to and she will love whilst you will be blushing, thinking what will she make of the language…which, yes, did include the F word. The best bit of what they were doing last night was inspired by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Two blokes in flat caps in a pub discussing Jesus telling the religious bloke to be born again and what this meant. I won’t go into detail for those who might see it at Greenbelt this year, where they are performing four different shows. Sufficient to say the bits about it being horrible to think about having to go through your mums chuff and rupturing her were hilarious. The thing about Applecart is they are explicitly performing normally for non-Christians and have a booking criteria which means they deal with real comedy in the real world rather than sanitised stuff in church buildings which might even make Disney look risky.
All in all a good day, but one which further emphasised to me that whilst Christian social entreprenurs and Mac users might have a place it’s ordinary people in the real world that I prefer to listen to. If you are still here I leave you with a You Tube clip of Applecart doing an interview at Greenbelt.