All posts by tractorgirl

About tractorgirl

Hi my name is Sally Rush: I'm a Christian, a mother, a community engagement officer, a listener, a dreamer, a partner, an experienced teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister and so much more.

Women’s World Day of Prayer

Feminism is a subject which appears to be on the agenda again in a way in which it hasn’t been for years. There is something vibrant and important happening both in the academic sphere and the general public arena.

Academically posts like this one on Expanding the Feminist Classroom from the Gender and Education Association blog provide part of the story. Moving into the hinterland between academia and the “real world” are blogs like the F Word blog and website and the Christian Feminist Network as well as blogs by academics dealing with the painful personal experience of discrimination in the wake of the women bishops vote, Miranda Thredfall-Holmes being one example. Many of the TED Talks about Women also come into this category.

The media has taken us into a revived “everyday discussion” through stories such as the Saville affair. This, together with other high profile abuse and harrassment scandals, has involved “feminist” debates as have the stories about how the cuts in public spending seem to be disproportionately impacting women.

The global campaign against domestic violence Million Women Rising is a powerful example of contemporary feminst activism. 9th March sees a national march against male violence.

All this can be seen as part of a new significant wave of feminism(s) but there are some less overtly feminist activities which aren’t new and continue but which remain in their own way significant “feminist” events. A key one of these is the Women’s World Day of Prayer – a global day of prayer which has been happening for over a century as the history page on the website shows.

This years WWDP is on Friday (1st March) and events are happening, as always, globally and in the UK nationwide. At Cornerstone we are having two services, the main one at 12:30 in the main church and then one in the evening at 6:30 in the chapel. I am facilitating the evening one, mainly to ensure that women who are working during the day have an opportunity to attend if they wish. I’m a little short of volunteers though. So in the unlikely event anybody MK based is about and willing to take part can they either leave a comment (your email address will not be publicly visible but it will be visible to me) or get in touch direct via FB or email, etc if they know me personally. If you don’t want to take part but wish to attend you’d be most welcome and where ever you are I would encourage you to attend these services which have been planned by the women of France and are put on by women but are for men to attend too.

Touch of Pink: Close Up

I could say lots of things about the Touch of Pink: Close Up exhibition which is currently in the Acorn House gallery. I could, but I won’t because it is quite sufficient to say that these excellent black and white photographic prints within this exhibition, which is a collaboration between MK Arts for Health and photographers Elizabeth Beston and Wendy Grant, together with the accompanying stories are simply very moving.

It was a priviledge to be able to see this exhibition and if you are local to MK I would highly recommend it. It is at Acorn House until the end of March and then moves on to other town centre venues.

Steve Chalke Continues the Conversation

Steve Chalke has done a follow up video to his recent article and responses to it. Within it he makes a number of appeals for people to move to an “open evangelicalism”.

From what he says it is clear that the view of “open evangelicalism” he is advocating is similar in most ways to what has been labelled “progressive evangelicalism” or “progressive Christianity” within the United States  (See the Progressive Christianity channel on Patheos for examples). In the US some such as Tony Campollo have eschewed this “progressive” label and have preferred to use Red Letter Christians – Chalke’s “open evangelicalism” is of this strand.

Looking at what he says it is clear that what he is talking about is a form of theology which blends mainstream evangelical thought with radical theology and wider source criticism of the biblical material.

This is not a new approach and in many ways it was exactly what Wesley was using with the Methodist Quadrilateral which blended tradition, scripture, reason and experience and others have used before and since. It is this type of approach which allows a pastoral response to be juxtaposed with theological response. It is not the easy approach which some of his critics claim. As Chalke says it involves wrestling with the bible to make sense of it as well as looking at experience and what wider culture and scholarship is saying.

In terms of there being one clear response in the bible he says if you study the critiques of his article without needing to explore widely you can see this is not true. He says there is a spectrum of understanding which is why we need to wrestle.

This approach to faith is not easy, it can lead to feelings of dissonance and even doubt that is why, as he says, it is painful for church leaders. It leads to disagreement and the possibility of being wrong which is painful, however as Chalke says it isn’t as painful as the rejection gay people have felt who have often had to deal with the same questions and issues but without support and without the ability to discuss the issues with detachment.

He then deals with criticism that his hermeneutic is wrong. Says that often this has been levelled at him by those who have seen soundbite but not looked at detail. He says his hermeneutic is not trajectory but centred. He takes a Jesus centred approach saying we should look through Jesus and his responses. This illustrates how the foundation of Chalke’s approach is using radical theology and where the problem lies. Radical theology lies beyond the boundaries which people seek to put up between evangelical, liberal, catholic and orthodox religion. Rather it overlays all of these whilst sitting comfortably in none.

Chalke’s video gives plenty of examples of where radical theology has been in conflict and influenced on specific issues. He does this whilst answering the allegation that he is trying to change tradition. He counters criticism by first pointing out nothing he is saying is new. Then he looks at variety of voices there have been throughout history, identifying that the dominant view has been the majority one but not the only one. In showing how paradigms do change he talks about Copernicus and Galileo  and how the view the world is not flat or centre of universe stood for 1500 years and then moves onto slavery and women in leadership. What he says is there has always been a minority view giving the alternative. He goes on further to say how views of divorce and remarriage have also changed.

He says we need to look at what are biblical views and what are cultural positions. I would argue  what we need, as much as a discussion on homosexuality, is an honest and open discussion about the nature and place of radical theology and the challenges and opportunities it poses for us. Often it is sidelined or characterised in an extreme form, but in practice it is a rich strand of theological thought which has sometimes influenced and sometimes been in direct conflict with other stands of thought.

With regards to the place of source criticism he makes the point the bible is not a private book. He makes the point that the church does not have a monopoly of ownership on it and so the church cannot say this is our private book and we have the right interpretation of it and everybody else looking at it is wrong. Within this he is talking about meaning of specific greek words.

With regards to gay people who have chosen to be celibate and those who have entered into heterosexual marriage he says they have made painful sacrifice with difficult consequences in many cases. In looking at this he looks at attitudes towards divorce in the past and how victims of domestic violence in the past suffered because they didn’t think they could leave unless adultery had been committed. He says it is good this has changed and he believes that thinking on gay faithful relationships needs to change too.

He says evangelicals always think God must agree with them and we have the truth but our views due change as we develop and get older. What we do is shift the truth in line with our thinking. Nobody has the whole truth. Like Brian McLaren and others it is clear that the academic deconstructionism of late (post) modernism and the related approach of critical realism have influenced his thought.

Within the content talking about previous evangelical approaches to the subject he makes a really important differentiation between toleration and inclusion. He makes clear one is positive whilst the other is more negative. One allows full participation whilst the other puts in barriers to participation which say “this person is viewed as less”.

In looking at where this view of the person having less value can lead he reminds us that homosexuality was something people got killed for in the holocaust. He uses this to explain homosexuality is not a choice.

A final question levelled against him and often against those who seek to follow a theological approach which seeks to blend radical theology with evangelicalism is that if you’re not condemning homosexuality (and various other activities) then what is church for? He says he finds that view confusing. Christians are defined by what they are for not what they are against he says.

What he says is he wants to call people to live faithfully and live well.

In this last point we have the other key difference between Chalke’s approach and that of more traditional or conservative evangelicals. It is some time now since Chalke was embroiled in another controversy when he said he didn’t agree with the idea of penal substitution. He does not require to see us all as bad people in need of punishment rather he comes from the perspective of seeing us all as people who need to be better connected to God so we might live more fully.

Spirituality in the Cineplex

Beautiful Creatures is a 12A which I would have normally well and truly wussed out of. Fortunately when a group of us were going through the movie choices we had in the foyer of the cineplex I was unaware of the content of the film. Not saying I didn’t hide my eyes and wish I wasn’t there a few times, but it was ok and I loved overall story. The humour was great and the acting was fun – this is the nearest you get to Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in Hammer Horror.

Whilst as the Guardian, (and others), have said of it there is more than a touch of the Twilight Saga about it there is a difference between this movie and your average Vampire/ Witch/ Zombie Gothic inspired teen chick flick. That difference is the way in which spirituality is discussed and the debate between rationality and faith is examined. It took the townspeople / supernatural folk interplay in a different and interesting direction as well as examining the way in which religion has and continues to be used and misused.

At one point the film explicitly explores “what is belief” and at another “what does the word sacrifice really mean?” and “what is the purpose of sacrifice?” is discussed.

There is a moment when Ethan, the main non-supernatural human, asks Amma, who is a seer and in many ways a bridge between the two communities/worlds how she can go to church when it thinks of as it does about the casters (witches). Amma answers him that God created all in his image, it is people who decide who was a mistake.

The film is in many ways a great morality tale showing there is good and bad within each of us and that we have choices, as well as illustrating as well as explaining the true nature of sacrifice.

I went surfing to see if I could find a link to a Christian film guide with content to support this film and couldn’t find one, having been on the Damaris site it appears they haven’t produced one. However, I did find this review which made me think “have I just watched a different movie?” I know I didn’t, it’s just I look at faith differently from my more conservative brothers and sisters. Where they saw a dangerous film I found a refreshing one which opened discussion.

My only real complaint with the content of the film was perhaps the way in which there seems to be an ongoing sexualisation of teenagers in films these days. Now, on one hand I know this is art reflecting reality rather than the other way round but on another I was left feeling a little uncomfortable about it in a way I can’t really explain.

However, even with that last bit in there if we were back in time about 5 years it is a film I would have been more than happy for Third Party to see and it would have been a really useful discussion tool. In addition to the spiritual themes already mentioned it would have been a good vehicle to look at the nature of prayer and when and how it is appropriate to pray, particularly if you find yourself threatened or believe you are in a situation of spiritual warfare – looking at what the bible said too.

There is a scene in the film which also discusses censorship and the way in which To Kill A Mockingbird was seen as a “banned” book because of subject content where two girls start praying against evil and refuse to read the book because of their beliefs. This would have been a really good discussion starter to ask what she thought and what she would have done in the situation and why. The content would have produced a vehicle for discussing some of the more difficult aspects of faith and its expression which I believe it is useful for parents to look at with their children. I think it would be useful for getting young people thinking through different strands of faith and may help prepare them for going to uni where they may encounter more conservative evangelical groups whose Christianity can be different to that which they have previously encountered. I believe aswell it would be good for discussing through and preparing them for dealing with secularism and humanism as ideologies.

In short I can’t recommend this film highly enough and if you are a Christian with a teenager, (who doesn’t get easily freaked), or even perhaps a youth leader working with 13+ age group I’d recommend this film as a great discussion starter opportunity.

200 issues on

Do lesbians still exist? It’s a question raised in the current issue of Diva, the 200th issue of the magazine which was first launched in 1994. The article outlines how identity has changed over the last eighteen years and how the lesbian community has widened out, now being much more welcoming to bi women for example.

The article is positive about the diversity which now exists, whilst acknowledging that it has taken some time to come about, and on one level that is fair. However, before we start celebrating it is worth noting the article itself finishes with a Stonewall advert saying  ‘Some people are bi. Get over it!’ And the OU Bisexuality Report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity highlighted how “invisibility” is still a problem for bisexual people.

Similarly whilst the article goes on to talk about the way that transgender people are now much more accepted within the lesbian community, citing the Gingerbeer membership agreement as an example, the reality is there is still a way to go with the inclusion of trans women, as recent debates amongst feminists in the media and beyond have highlighted.

Additionally, it depends upon where you live in the UK as to how inclusive the wider community actually is of bi and trans people. Stonewall Scotland is highly inclusive whilst in England and Wales the charity excludes transgender people, for example.

All that said the reality is, as the article claims, that the whole situation is far different to where it was eighteen years ago and is continuing to evolve. We have moved from the days of clause 28 to the recent vote on the second reading of the equal marriage legislation. On Saturday the Guardian had Sophie Ward and her partner on the front page of the family section and the Terrance Higgins Trust has recently launched a new section on their website for trans men and women.

I began my coming out journey a few years after Diva launched but it was a part of that journey, particularly in the early naughties, when I used to buy it in the WH Smith in Canterbury.  I have seen it change over the last decade or so and for a while stopped buying it because it got so focused on sex it was little more than a lads mag for dykes but now it has emerged from that part of its history and is a decent magazine again. Part of the reason for that is the way it has had to become more inclusive but also there is now more content for them to include. Civil Partnerships gave a whole new set of articles to include from 2005 onwards. Parenting is now much more of an accepted part of LGBT experience in the way it wasn’t in the past, (although due to the number of people who had often been married at one point and so had children there have always been more LGBT parents than acknowledge). There is also now much less of a focus on youth than there was in the past too. Shows like the L Word and Lip Service have, I think, played an important part in this too. They have shown a variety of characters within them and given specific celebrities to be covered but beyond that I think the fact there are now more out public figures in than in the past has a key influence. This article on the DIVA 200th issue photo shoot has a range of people involved and Clare Balding was interviewed and featured on the cover of another recent issue.

But is it time to move on from specific lesbian media like Diva? My answer is no, to answer the original question whatever we may wish to call ourselves lesbians do still exist. Whilst the culture and experience between different people does differ and our media needs to reflect that the truth is that if we don’t have magazines like Diva and shows like Lip Service, (which has sadly not been commissioned for a third series), we will be people searching around for odd articles and characters who reflect that part of our experience and identity. What we need, as most other identity groups do, is a mix of media to choose from including but not exclusively lesbian media. So happy anniversary Diva, here’s to 200+ more.

Retelling Protest!

Protest has been in and out of fashion throughout history, in latter years it appears to have come into vogue again. It’s an continues to be a useful tool for sociologists and social historians to study.

Documentaries like We Are Many, which I blogged about in this post yesterday, are one way of preserving this social history – (as are blog posts themselves). Another way is the one being used by The Guardian at the moment, they have an essay writing competition going on where writers who were involved in protest during 2012 are invited to submit up to 5000 words on their experience. The winner will see their work published as part of the Guardian Shorts series of ebooks.

Then you can look back at the archives for flyers, papers and so one. One really useful resource for this type of thing is SchNEWS whose books give a history of the anarchist collectives work.

Then there are the books which retell the stories and sometimes seek to analyse what it all means. There is a small network of independent bookshops and presses which are particularly useful for this type of thing. One I can highly recommend is The People’s Bookshop in Durham, which I am glad is hanging on in there – all be it on reduced opening hours. They have a great collection and do online ordering if you go the website.

One thing I love about studying social movements, which I’ve done academically from time to time, is the accessibility of the research material. My undergrad dissertation on the opposition to the 1994 Criminal Justice Act involved following the NME for months, for example, (as well as collecting material at Glastonbury and elsewhere).

I hope that the material which the Guardian collects through this competition will be archived appropriately and that one day the whole set of stories they contain will be made available.

Not In My Name 10 years on

Yesterday it was 10 years since the Anti-War demonstrations against the Iraq war. A decade on We Are Many are seeking to create a feature length documentary funded it seems though crowd sourcing. It’s a similar format to the one being used for Greenbelt at 40.

Sitting down chatting to Karl last night it was strange thinking back and realising it was all a decade ago.

I remember the run up to the day, sitting talking about it in the staff room at work. There were people who couldn’t go telling me that they were glad I was able to go because I’d be marching for them as well. That was the first inkling I got this was different. Normally there’d be a bit of an embarrassed silence if you mentioned at work you were going on a demo – but not this time.

Third Party was 8 years old with a bright pink Afghan style coat we’d got from Woolies. I was a scruffy git in a biker jacket, jumper and jeans.

As we got to London the size of the demo was something which we did and didn’t get at the time. As I remember it we got ourselves reasonably near the front of the march and slotted in without really grasping the size. What did grab me at the time though was the multi-racial nature of the event. It was the first time I really remember marching alongside Muslim activists. There were also more kids about than usual. The atmosphere was kind of like a carnival.

I remember seeing an off duty Corrie star just in front of us ever so kindly telling a media type who approached her that she was one a day off, just out with some friends. Nobody hassled her, nobody cared who anybody else was – we were all in this together.

I managed to meet up with my dad at Hyde Park and then I took Third Party to Hard Rock Cafe as a treat. We sat by the window and I was struck by how many people were still streaming into Hyde Park.

There was a sense of hope in the air that day which I saw again in 2005 with Make Poverty History and again about 18 months ago at the beginning of Occupy. In all these cases there was a sense that if enough people came together something might be achieved. They were, initially at least, empowering events.

With the possible exception of Make Poverty History, which was a different kind of campaign, the hope was soon replaced by feelings of disappointment and hopelessness. I think for many the cynicism towards politics which has characterised so much of this century really set in then.

Blair had come to power in 1997 on a wave of optimism – it was in the aftermath of this 2003 demonstration that I think the sense of betrayal by New Labour cut deepest.

Do I regret going on the demo? Do I think it achieved more harm than good in some ways?

Answer to the first question is no. My reply to the second is possibly, but I think that has more to do with Blair’s response than the demonstration itself. If I were given a choice between passive acceptance or doing the same thing again there would be no question I’d march again.

What about Sunday?

What about Sunday? No this isn’t the latest tag line, it’s the current mixed media exhibition by Swiss artists Silvia Bachli and Eric Hattan on at MK Gallery until 31st March. It’s a mixture of individual and collaborative pieces.

As you walk in underneath some foliage which apparently are discarded Christmas trees you get the feeling this is going to be different but has potential.

Moving onto the Cube Gallery is a set of Hattan’s videos which are I think one of the better features of this exhibition. They are part of an installation called Round and Round. There is a guy walking under the underpasses in town and I was struck by how reminiscent this video was of some of Suzanna Raymond’s work which I’ve discussed on here before, (and who currently has work being exhibited at the Creed Street Theatre in Wolverton in an exhibition I hope to, but am not sure I will get to before it closes in a few days time – follow this link to her film Shadows).

Two of the most striking videos which were part of Round and Round were a couple of youngsters kicking a can around and an empty, clear, plastic bag floating about. There is a paradox created between the feelings that there should be more for the kids to be doing, and that the litter shouldn’t be there and the sheer beauty of the images within the films.

This section is accompanied by a soundtrack which sounds like the can being kicked around but which was apparently recorded as Hattan was driving.

There are also some of Bachli’s Dark Drawings alongside. Couldn’t quite work out why they alongside the video installation. This feeling of is this just a random collection of modern art with no clear link between things was a recurring theme throughout this exhibition which didn’t grab me in the same way the previous one – which I reviewed – had.

The art in the Middle Gallery didn’t grab my attention at all. The Long Gallery had more art which left me feeling underwhelmed and thinking a lot of supposedly ‘amateur art’ I’ve seen has been more inspiring.

The one thing which really did get me thinking I think this is great art was the lamppost they had coming out from the bannister of the stairs.  It was a steel lamppost which was bent over as if there had been a major accident in the gallery and the car had been removed but the lamppost remained.

Also part of the exhibition is a Caravan – parked outside the gallery – which has been making me smile as I’ve found myself going past it on various occasions as have the TV screens in the window of the gallery shop.

As for the £8,000 cheque….nah, but then I suspect that it may well be in one of the spaces you don’t get to if you’re there to actually look at the art. This Guardian article suggested the possibility of the ladies toilets – that would be a no I think, (it was the one place I properly did have a good glance round just in case).

In some ways I think it’s sad the money was hidden in this exhibition not the last one. As you can tell I was abit unimpressed with this overall. Art as I’ve said before is subjective – some really grabs you and makes you go wow, some makes you go that’s s**t and then you get some which makes you say “ok….why?” – with the odd exception this didn’t really elicit any of those responses.

Going back to my point about having seen ‘amateur art’ in the past which I have been able to engage with more thoroughly I am looking forward to the Summer Exhibition. There is currently a call going out for work for the MK Calling season, which is looking for artists of all sorts. Going back to the £8,000 cheque – it is apparently some kind of protest against the fact that artists living outside the MK boundary are going to be unable to enter the competition linked to the exhibition call – see this article in the MK Citizen for details of the protest.

As for the What About Sunday? title – I leave that with you. Perhaps it could be a teaser for 29th September 2013?

Growing Through Church – Review

Before I start reviewing Growing through the Church: A practical and theological vision for all-age worship by Russell Herbert I want to give a bit of background on how I came to be reading the book.

Karl has been asked to write a proper review on it for somewhere and so that’s how we happened to have it in the house when I got back from leading an all age service on Sunday which I knew hadn’t achieved what it was supposed to – i.e. it hadn’t been all age worship. The prayer and preperation had all gone into it and I had worked hard to put something together which was appropriate but it hadn’t worked as I’d hoped. As a teacher it was a feeling I was familiar with – you know when something hasn’t engaged (in the intended way or not).

As a reflective practitioner I know the way to deal with this feeling – which is particularly hard for some of us to deal with – is acknowledge the feelings you have, be kind to yourself rather than beat yourself up and then look at why it didn’t work and what you might do differently. Once you’ve looked at why it hadn’t gone as you had hoped some further study/ reading/ thinking may be required to try and change what happens next time. And so that’s how I came to be picking up the group which I decided to do a review on – as a way to engage in some positive reflective practice.

Russell Herbert is a Methodist Superintendent who has sought to write a book looking at the theology of all age worship rather than the actual practice involved. As he states in the introduction “it is not a ‘how-to’ book”. That to a large extent is true, although the latter chapters – particularly those on music, prayer and message – do give some excellent practical advice.

Within the introduction he lays out why all age worship can and does go wrong for people – both within the congregation and those leading. As he says two common problems are when it is either “a service for children at which adults are present” or “a service for adults at which children are present.”

The first main chapter entitled The Need to Grow focuses on the need for qualitative growth through discipleship as well as quantitative growth through evangelism within any congregation. The writer explores the way in which over simplification which can occur in the desire to be seeker-sensitive as well as child friendly is problematic. He argues within this chapter and throughout the text that in our desire to be welcoming and inclusive we can hold people back from spiritual maturity and growth.

Within this chapter he begins to talk about alienation making reference to Alan Jamieson’s text A Churchless Faith, and Fowler’s model of the stages of faith which Jamieson refers to within his work. Herbert claims that whilst Jamieson paints a picture of churches which is extreme and fundamentalist but agrees many within congregations would be able to identify with the discontent Jamieson refers to. I think this comment is one which highlights that whilst this book is not written from a denomination position. It is written from the perspective of somebody who is located within a particular ‘mainstream’ theological position which whilst broadly evangelical is also rooted in a tradition which values the use of reason above experience and reads scripture through that lens.

He also critiques the work of John Hull and Pete Ward in this first main chapter to argue against a dependency chapter where people are filtered through a system which turns them into leaders or the led.  He argues most strongly that “there is a need for us to encounter the not yet familiar as well as what we already understand and relate to”.

Chapter Two The Generation Game: Towards and all-age Church is a clarion call for intergenerational church. Again he focuses on the qualitative rather than the quantitative within this chapter. He makes the point that spiritual maturity should not be measured against age or even the length of time people have been Christians rather it should be identified through thought and practice. That said he makes the point that the wisdom of older members of our congregations is often not valued, rather they are often marginalised.

He uses the work of Rob Merchant on the third and forth ages to show how demographic changes within our society relating to life expectancy are meaning that we have a new category of people within our churches. Living into your eighties or nineties is now often the norm rather than the exception. We need, he argues, to value older generations as the church of today rather than viewing them as the church of yesterday.

He has no illusions about the difficulties involved in inclusion and intergenerational worship. However he warns against the Homogeneous Unit Pricipal (HUB) strongly critiquing it and in turn the Fresh Expressions movement which he views, despite what Cray et al may say, as running the risk of producing HUB’s rather than a diverse and inclusive church. (My own view on this can be seen I think from this post I wrote regarding safe space and the Christian LGBandT community).

Chapter Three Church for all Stages: Towards and all-stage Church returns to Fowlers stages of church and critiques this in more depth as well as laying the foundation for using this in much of the rest of the book. Again this is a call for an inclusive approach to church and worship.

The book changes gear between chapters three and four. Chapter Four Imagining Worship looks at worship from a variety of perspectives: as service to God, as the mirror of heaven, as affirmation, as communion, as proclamation and as the arena of transcendence. The last of which he argues is one part often lost – and this is because he argues we can often lose sight of the importance of the presence of God in our worship. There can too often be a focus on what we do, how we do it and why do it without taking into account the reality of the presence of God in our worship.

It is within this forth main chapter that his focus moves to the importance of images and symbols and starts to talk a little more about practice rather than the theology and philoshophy behind it.

In beginning to talk of images he refers to needing to produce a spark and how this often comes from playing with different images to which people are able to relate and which have a link but which are not ordinarily associated.  He argues part of the role of the worship leader/ preacher is to produce a sense of intrege which can be nurtured enabling the familiar to be presented in a way which seems fresh and new.

Within this section where he talks of the value of story, projection and drama he makes several points he goes on to underline. The first is that there is a danger in too much explanation. The second is that symbols are important but they have their power through a sense of participation and interaction with them. If this sense of participation is lost then the congregation is robbed of the necessary meaning of the symbols.

He then talks about comedy and how it can work on the same level as symbols. Whilst being careful to give the required health warning regarding humour he shows it is useful. He does, however, make very clear that we need to know when to mourn and cry as well as when to laugh.

Music is often a contentious subject within churches and this is something he deals within in Chapter Five. He begins by making an important point that you can not assume a preference for a particular type of music based upon a persons age. This is a problem which I think many of us fall into.

In terms of music he makes the point that ethos and atmosphere is important as is participation and ritual. There is an importance he reminds us to strive to avoid “performance”. I think that whilst there is a growing recognition of the second part of this the former is equally important and may provide some explanation for why we are seeing a growth in cathedral worship (something the Church Growth Research Programme research currently being undertaken may help us explore further).

A very practical point he makes within this section before underlining in the following chapters is the overuse of any form/ element can be a problem. That said he argues that it should be engaging imagination rather than a quest for balance which should be our starting point.

Chapter Six Let Us Pray looks at symbols, participation, ritual, play and laughter again. It gives a few practical ideas and examples but essentially reinforces what has already been said, whilst focusing it around the subject of prayer.

Chapter Seven The Word Made Flesh again acts as a mix of reinforcement and practical ideas relating to the giving of “the message”. Within this chapter he brings in the importance of quality in what we do. He also develops further the conversations on images and symbols and identifies why the two are different. Within this he talks about the way in which an image doesn’t point beyond itself in the same way in which a symbol does. The health warnings in this chapter against “over use of novelty” is a useful reminder.

The final main chapter is called Calling Everyone: Services with Respons-ibilty talks of the need to find innovative ways to allow creative ways to respond. Within this chapter he makes the point that one needs to know what best suits the local context. This is an important point which I think he could have explored further, particularly in relation to the denominational context he is coming from. Local Preachers who travel around the circuit and who may only visit a chapel once or twice a year don’t have the same knowledge of the local congregation which he advocates.

This lack of knowledge of the local context becomes a problem not only in terms of finding the right way for people to respond to the message but also in putting some of the good advice into practice. If one has regular and direct contact with a congregation, rather than working through a steward on infrequent visits it is easier to include drama, etc. The visiting local preacher does not have the same knowledge of the toolbox of gifts within the congregation and this is something I am increasingly aware of. One way of encouraging participation is knowing about and being able to use gifts within the congregation – the average local preacher lacks this knowledge.

Going back to my own experience on Sunday, briefly, after reading this book I was able to identify exactly where I had gone wrong as well as what I had done which was good practice for this type of service. Whilst seeking to be child friendly I had relied too much on technology which it turned out there wasn’t a confidence in. I had not looked at how to fully engage people in a participative way. Where I had sought to ensure participation much of it had been adultcentric. I had also sought to explain too much rather than give space for the individual to unpack the wonder of the scriptures. Russell Herberts book ends with a list of practical resource material which I can refer to in the future to help me in the planning of such services.

For me being able to write that last paragraph is the test of a book like this. Does it enable me to reflect on the nature of all age worship and to come away with a greater understanding which I can then reflect upon and relate to my own experience, seeking to serve those congregations I have appointments with in the future in a better? If as in this case the answer is yes then this is a good book worth purchasing and referring back to in the future. On this basis I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Can We Still Be Friends Review

Yesterday I got home from church, poured a large glass of wine, texted Karl saying if he was still to pass a shop could he buy me some chocolate, prayed one of those “sorry God/ help God ” prayers that follows a service you’ve just done hasn’t gone the way you wish it had and settled down with a book and the rugby after watching Fried Green Tomatoes which happened to be on. A proper lazy Sunday afternoon was indulged in.

The book turned out to be one of those plough through to the end in one go and enjoy it loads type – which I was glad about.

In terms of the service which hadn’t gone as hoped – that’s for tomorrow or rather the reason I found it difficult is addressed in tomorrows post -when I review Russell Herbert’s Growing through Church: A practical and theological vision for all-age worship, (which Karl has been given to properly review for something and which I have happened to pick up to learn from/ review on here).

Back to the chill out book that was Can We Still Be Friends by Alexandra Shulman. Before I start I’d like to clarify that I haven’t missed the question mark which should logically be in there, it’s not in the title. It was one of those surprise me type titles I pick up in the local library from the recent titles section.

It’s a book covering three years of post-uni friendship of three friends living in London. The main characters of Kendra, Sal and Annie are contrasting characters of different middle-class backgrounds.

Annie is stylish and organised in PR, Sal is a chaotic journalist and Kendra goes into community work – seeking to do something worthwhile, whilst escaping her higher middle-class background.

The story is a novel by the editor of British Vogue which is on one level just a good read. On another it is a cliched feminist text. Story about a woman who falls in love and then realises she can leave the guy when it shows itself to be a mistake- check, story line relating to a woman’s right to choose – check, narrative about the women in the workplace imitating men for negative results – check, lesbian coming out story – check and so I could go on for quite a while.

There was the occasional continuity error as well. The debate about women priests, which was the one going on at the time, is referred to as the debate on women bishops.

All that said though it is a good read with an excellent story, which contains various cultural and current affairs references of the time which do take you back. The characters come alive and are vibrant and interesting people who you can empathise with in different ways.

The coming out story is dealt with in a way which whilst being very much of the time deals with issues which are just as familiar today as they would have been in the 1980’s. The same is true of the subject of alcohol and substance misuse which is addressed here.