Category Archives: Ranting

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

This is the week for Prayer for Christian Unity an annual event which is organised in this country by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Their website has a range of resources which are being used this week.

This year the week is based around Micah 6:6-8 which in verse 8 asks “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” It was a verse which was referred to in the benediction given at the Presidential Inauguration yesterday. It’s a verse which Micah Challenge, an international challenge seeking to hold governments accountable for their Millennium Development Goals, base their campaign upon. It’s one of those verses which seems to be something we can agree on but it’s one of those really difficult verses to live out in practice.

As regular readers will be aware the church I attend is an eccumenical church where they are trying to get on with the messy business of living out Christian Unity and where there very survival depends not on having a week of prayer for Christian unity, but a daily one. It was in this context that the Rev David Moore preached a sermon on Sunday based upon Micah 6 verse 8 for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Now David is part of the congregation of the church and has been for many years, he knows exactly what the score is and it was in that context he preached the sermon which was both a kick arse and kick up the arse sermon, as far as I was concerned. (I’ve put the link to the church blog where it has been posted in and I really would encourage you to read it if you have time).

We don’t just listen to these things in a bubble though we take them in through the wider lens of our lives, experiences and feelings. So it was I heard and reflected upon this sermon with other events of the week in mind, the stuff I’d heard about the impact and potential impact of the cuts and the whole Steve Chalke thing.

David started off by talking about the way in which Micah lived in a boarder town and what the prophet was calling people to was a counter-cultural, radically different way of life. He then went on to explain how we need to focus beyond the church and into the wider world. Within this he referred to the diversity discussion going on at Cornerstone at the moment and how it has in his opinion not gone far enough. It has not looked at the whole diversity of the wider town(s) we are part of, rather focusing in on the diversity issues which impact us.

This was my first kick up the backside moment. My diversity agenda may be slightly wider, but it is still limited and inward looking.

He then gave an extract from a young girls diary which focuses on the apparently inconsequential such as the yellow chords she’d been wearing before adding as a footnote “man landed on moon”.

That made me stop for a moment and gave a huge challenge. As he said 66 words on teenage hormones and four about life changing events. This blog gives more than 66 words on most days to inconsequential nonsense and sometimes event less to the important stuff. It’s been something going on in my mind since and something I’ve been wrestling with as a result.

He then went on to give something of the history of Cornerstone and made the point few of the original people who had been involved in the hard decisions and had had to learn to trust each other were still about and this had consequences.

This is true, I certainly have struggled with what it means to be part of an eccumenical church. In the past I have always been enthusiastic about the concept, but in practice being part of Cornerstone has been hard and has made me identify more strongly as a low-church non-conformist than I have ever done in the past. Living out eccumenicalism in that context requires you to give up part of your identity and in doing so makes you more aware of that part of who you are or who you have constructed yourself to be.

Rev Moore called for us to “This week I invite you to reflect/muse upon faith as ‘radical trust’; love as course of action, rather than a cluster of beliefs about which we endlessly argue or worry.”

He called upon us to “Act justly – this is first and foremost about putting others first – not allowing the ‘yellow jean syndrome’ to flood our horizon with our ‘hormones’ or cultural myopia.  (Myopia = nearsightedness, lack of imagination, foresight or intellectual insight.)   Act justly.

Love mercy – think of ‘love’ as a verb … a doing word;  love as action rather than sentiment or sentimentality; putting first that which puts the other person first.  (The trouble is we think we know what is best for others!)

Walk humbly – to take this lifestyle as no big deal – this, quite simply, is the reason why it can be a very disturbing way – the radical nature of ordinariness when lived with purpose.”

These were strong words and whilst I was on the edge of my seat as he spoke them, feeling a strange mix of empowerment and enthusiasm as well as guilt I wanted to scream out so how the heck do we actually get on and do it?

David then went on to give some of his own story, being vulnerable in the process. Within this he said the following which was incredibly powerful hearing it and has remained so reading it again this morning.

“One of the things I personally find most difficult as a Christian is the way other people assume to know what, for me, being a Christian means …. the assumption is that it’s about believing in impossible things, like God, the Trinity, being good!

For me being a Christian is first and foremost NOT these things but about becoming a pilgrim, having a clear purpose you can articulate.

What I have in mind is ‘love’ as a verb and not just or even a feeling.  I am drawn by the disturbance Jesus caused to the establishment because of his capacity to focus on the most important things, and my quest is to redefine what that means for us today.

I cannot affirm with any sense of purpose or excitement the historic creeds – I do not want to get rid of them – they are marker posts in the ever-changing sands of Christian history.  However, I do invite you to make time this week to muse upon my minimalist affirmation: faith as a journey away from certainty, rather than a primary source of certainty. I understand faith as a call to action, rather than a cluster of beliefs which we argue about or feel forced to conform to.”

He continued a paragraph or so later:

“The very thing that ‘captured’ me when I arrived at Cornerstone was that people were living by faith – not in pious ways but practical, intelligent, adult ways.  That is the reason I am still here.  I do, however,  fear now that the Diversity discussion, as wonderful as it is, lacks the political clout required to face up to the long-term disasters being heaped upon future generations by the present Government.

I do not believe that Jesus would settle for the present level of silence between believers and the world.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.  These characteristics do not immediately spring to mind in either the political or religious world of today.”

For me this all captured so much of what I have been feeling and am wondering about. I am going to briefly give 3 examples of things which worry me (and there could be so much more):

1) The churches attitudes to foodbanks. We know the need is rising for these and churches have been at the forefront of helping support these. Infact many churches get quite self-congratulatory about the support they provide, but they are not at the same time publicly questioning why foodbanks are necessary and publicly campaigning against the changes in public policy which are going to make them more necessary. Gingerbread have highlighted how 200,000 more children are likely to end up in poverty (and so needing the support of churches and other voluntary organisations like foodbanks).

2) The debates around inclusion, particularly related to sexual orientation and same sex marriage. We, (and here I include myself), have made much of this weeks debate and the way in which the nature of the debate has changed. Yet, we are still framing it within “the church” and our attitudes. To be fair Steve Chalke did address this in some of what he said – making the point about the young people Oasis work with in their academies, but the whole thing needs to be seen in the wider context.

Over the last few weeks with work I have been involved in the campaign our young people have been spearheading to fight the proposed withdrawal of funding for their youth club. As part of this I have become aware of the statistics both locally and nationally about homophobic bullying, self-harm, suicide risk and so on which illustrate why young people need LGBandT safe spaces and the benefits which these spaces can provide. (Anybody local in Milton Keynes reading this who hasn’t yet responded to the budget consultation may wish to do so – putting something in response to proposal S61 which is the proposal to cease to provide youth grants to voluntary organisations).

The church in the debate it has been having isn’t anywhere near taking this wider, real world, into account. We are still so bloody inward looking and on both sides are still far too focused on the experiences of those within the church and on those things which the church wants to protect or change.

3) Denominational groups and churches are facing a drop in income and the impacts of this is being felt. At the same time demand for practical support and help from churches is growing and come April when the bulk of cuts come in and start to bite one can only imagine what the situation will be.

We need to be thinking how to respond, yet we are focused in so many churches around talking about the songs we sing on a Sunday and what worship means to us.

And you know what the last bit happens because it is dealing with things we feel we might have some power to change. I and so many others I know are feeling so utterly hopeless in the face of what’s happening that we are focusing in on the stupid ‘us stuff’ because it’s stuff we can do something about. We don’t know what the heck to do about anything else, understanding that the system’s broke and that hard decisions are needed about what to do but knowing the hard decisions being made right now are often morally wrong ones which don’t fit in with our faith. And that’s why we need our leaders to stop faffing about focusing on women bishops and gay marriage and start giving us some real leadership on discipleship and how we can actually live out Micah 6 verse 8.

I know I am part of the change I want to see but I need some leadership and inspiration – I need to know what the heck to do as well as the courage to do it. So I need what was missing from David’s sermon – the information and networks to put it into practice. For too long I’ve heard the call to action without being given the practical help to be able to put it into action.

Access Gateway Across a Divide

Wasn’t going to blog today, got way too much to do but reading this blog post from Hannah Mudge and the Telegraph article it responds to have gotten me a little worked up. The topic in question is feminism and the discussion revolves around the differences between young women who children young and those who don’t and in turn those who are actively involved in feminist politics against those who are through their very lifestyles are involved in feminist concerns, although they would never term them as such.

The language within both articles is very much “us” and “them” but I live/ have lived in a different world where the divides are much more blurred. I want to argue the case that whilst there is truth in both articles they are reductionist and through their simplification they continue to miss exploring the significance of some key political campaigns in education and beyond as well as perpetuating the marginalisation of some issues within academia.

I have taught Access Sociology students for a number of years. These classes were predominantly female, largely made up of people aged 21 – 35 with a few older people each year. The majority of young women had children and most were seeking to go on into Higher Education. When I taught feminism to these women, (as part of their courses), as well as New Right theory and Marxism they would engage in it in a way which was refreshing. They would speak out of their own personal experience when getting wound up about Charles Murray’s underclass theory.

Over the last few years of teaching the subject I used the film Made in Dagenham as a key teaching resource. It is a useful reminder about the role men have often played in encouraging women to advance their struggle/ achieve their goals as well as the way women of different classes can and do work together.

That said there is somewhat of a divide between those feminists who have emerged out of an academic environment who would claim the term and the rest of the world. This is in part because of what their personal experiences are but also because of the way in which one set of knowledge is privileged against another and the way in which one set of voices have power to be heard in a way in which others don’t.

I went and did my research on single parents in evangelical churches because no other bugger was looking at the issue. Feminism and church seemed to relate to either women in leadership or the impact of male headship. Christian feminism I would suggest needs to look at the experiences of women in the pews more and seek to examine what issues face them as women in church and beyond.

What I think these articles do highlight as well is the way that feminism needs to look more widely at what is going on in society and ask questions about how those things impact women of all classes and social characteristics.

Some issues which I think are vital for feminists to pick up on right now are:

The way the cuts and changes going on with regards to adult education are impacting women (and men) in their 20’s who want to go to go back into FE to get the qualifications to go to uni and retired women (and men) who want to engage in leisure learning particularly.

The removal of council tax benefit and the way the new local systems which require everybody to pay something are going to impact a wide range of women (as well as men) of various ages.

The discussion around removing concessionary bus fares in some areas (including Milton Keynes), particularly for young people, and the increased danger this will pose to young women if they are forced to walk in badly lit areas more.

The way funding for youth services are being cut in a large number of areas and the impact this will have on being able to address issues like domestic violence and sexual health with young people of both sexes.

In terms of women and churches I think there is scope for looking at the way older women in our congregations are treated and the expectations upon them. I know many are treated well and are happy to carry on serving and that’s great BUT we do need to look more closely at what is going on because as some churches become much more dependent upon this group I fear that there are cases where their good will is being exploited and that is a feminist issue. The fact churches are “full of old women” becomes seen as a problem….what stereotyping is going on of those women?

Beyond this there are huge questions about how we as younger feminists value our elders and their stories.

Starting to go off topic and as I say I have loads to get on with today….and so end of rant.

Community sees People

The Guardian had this article on the changing nature of festivals and the way that the head of Live Nation John Probyn has said that the biggest challenge to the industry is that festival goers are becoming too fussy.

I read the article with interest, particularly the part where he talks of it being a good thing festivals getting bigger and control more centralised because it allows the costs including the artists fees to be lowered. He is talking of a particular type of festival and punter. The events he is talking about are the huge big name ones.

However, as David Binder reminds us in this recent TED talk about the changing nature of festivals it is just one model. There is a diversity within the festival market and different festivals attract different people for different reasons. Within his talk Binder describes, primarily, the type of festival which Milton Keynes had over the summer with its Summer of Culture and theInternational Festival which took place within it and which is coming back in 2014 with a large scale dance performance being planned by the new artist in residence Rosemary Lee according to the website. I reflected on the role that artists themselves had in this model, (MKIF for example has heavy involvement from The Stables ).

Then there are the embedded independent festivals like Greenbelt which have a niche market and a loyal following. The way in which most people just got on with the mud was indicative of the way in which this type of festival goer differs from the punter at the big event. There is a sense of community which exists amongst many who attend these festivals which, whilst there at some of the bigger more commercial events, is lost amongst most. I can’t imagine V asking for festival goers to contribute to this type of crowd sourced documentary project for their 40th birthday.

There has to be an acknowledgement that over recent years the festival market has become over saturated and this has put pressure upon many festivals and events of all kinds. However, there has also been as Binder indicates a shift and organic growth of community art which has taken place at the same time. This ties in with the point which one of the contributors at ADVENTurous, (which Jonny Baker has some brilliant photos of within a slide show which can be accessed via his blog), made. That is there is a link being made between the local or hyper local and the global. (See this post for more my take on that event).

It has always been there but in recent times it has emerged more obviously again, almost like a phoenix from the ashes. In part it appears to be a response to the recession and the economic situation people now find themselves in, in part it is because we have the tools of social media and the digital age and in part it is because of something which has been happening on the ground amongst artists and others.

Roger Kitchen gave a talk at a TEDx Milton Keynes event in September where he described the community he lived in. Within it he explained that Wolverton has a strong sense of community and it is a creative place which as old institutions and customs have died has put new events in place. It has benefited from grassroots involvement, including from artists who have often chosen to live in the area simply because of its affordability. There is that hyper local element of community engagement happening.

Reading the initial Guardian article I referred to I was struck by the way that the Live Nation guy just saw artists as another commodity to be obtained as cheaply as possible just like beer. The economic models he is using are those which refer to ‘labour’ rather than people and whose main purpose is to allow the entrepreneurs and owners to make as much profit as possible. In that scenario where art and artists are seen as little more than another supply and demand model variable the consumer will become more picky.

However, using other models where artists are valued as people with skills and something exciting to bring then something truly exciting can happen. Communities can be rebuilt and change can occur.

Within his talk Roger Kitchen What Makes A Community? made reference to the MK Christian Foundation and their social enterprises. This is one example of where the Christian community is working with the wider community and working on qualitative rather than quantitative growth.

The work En Gedi is doing with ADVENTurous, which is described by Gavin Mart 10 mins into this Fresh Expressions clip from the conference the other week, is another example of qualitative rather than quantitative engagement and of how secular artists are working with the those from faith communities. One interesting thing is the way that Mart (and others at the Following the Missionary Spirit conference) talked of permission giving taking place, whilst those doing stuff on the ground at ADVENTurous were making the point what is happening with alot of the new festivals and artistic NVDA projects is people are learning to just do it without seeking permission.

In looking at the arts world and thinking about these things, reflecting in part on my thesis conclusions, I see that what is happening in the festival culture is also happening within Christian culture.

The large churches focused on quantitative growth using market based strategies are still there. They are facing challenges specific to their context, including I would argue from some of the anecdotal evidence you find around the web, a greater pickiness amongst  those worshippers who attend them. If these consumers aren’t happy in one church they are quite happy to travel to another which meets their requirements.

However, at the same time there are several other things happening and a variety of models emerging. There are established churches and congregations changing the way they do things, taking a more relationally based approach which seeks qualitative as much as quantitative growth. These are the churches who are getting out into their local communities again and often coming together as the driving forces behind social enterprise movements. Food banks, (despite their problem of being organisations which meet need rather than challenging the causes of need), are another part of this whole move which is taking place..

Then there are the small micro-groups and communities who are coming together. The people who Studebaker and Lee, in their paper on Emerging Churches in Post Christian Canada describe as the pilgrims.

Different models are emerging in different contexts in both the arts/festival world and the Christian world, and surprise surprise – as they both inhabit the same physical world – crossovers are occurring as communities are being (re)formed.

That’s my take I’d welcome your thoughts and comments.

Clarity in Emotion

The Transgender Day of Remembrance event I’ve blogged about recently was last night. It was a moving event which about 20 people including the local mayor attended. There were poems (one of which was written by a member of the local trans community), a reflection, a prayer and we all read out together the names of those we know about who have died as a result of transphobic violence over the last year. At the end of the event Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong was played.

It was an emotional event and whilst the reading of the names was extremely moving it was the prayer, (which is the second one down on this link and which Karl amended for a secular, mainly non-Jewish audience) and song which hit me.  As I sat at the back of the room I could see around me a number of trans people whose stories I knew something of, as well as people who I didn’t know. I could also see the local police woman who is in charge of dealing with hate crime locally. Finally I had in my mind a couple of people who couldn’t be there for various reasons, whose stories and struggles again I knew something of. Listening to the song I knew the reality of the lyrics, these people do really have something inside so strong which enables them to carry on in the face of prejudice and injustice.

This event then was not just an act of remembrance it was also an act of solidarity and in a strange way also a celebration of hope.

After everybody had left and we had cleared away Karl and I walked out of the small hall hired for the event and into the main church reception, the lovely guy on reception gave us the news. “They’ve said no to women bishops.” (Making an Ass of Myself has posted the figures and his reaction, he clearly makes the point that the majority of the church is in favour.) I managed to hold it vaguely together and not burst into floods until I got outside the building, but it hurt. Karl commented that he was surprised by the force of my reaction seeing as I didn’t even believe in bishops. The thing is though this isn’t about bishops entirely, it’s much wider, it’s about women in the church and how they are viewed. It’s about the continuation of struggles over a century old, it’s also about whether in reality there is any way in which closer ecumenical ties can happen, it’s about having a barrier to credible mission and witness removed and so I could go on.

For me it’s also about knowing that whilst it’s a problem for some who provision was being made for it’s something which the majority of ordinary CofE attenders are not opposed to – something yesterday’s figures have confirmed. Whenever this issue is discussed I think back to a conversation I had with my grandma about 10 years ago. My grandma was a dyed in the wool Book of Common Prayer, 8 o’clock communion type who in many ways typified a certain type of rural church attender. She was a woman who had strong views about what women could and couldn’t do. She was of the opinion that women most definitely should not be serving on the front line or going to sea with the navy, they were not designed to be refuse collectors and there were various other things they shouldn’t be doing but she could see no reason why they could not be bishops. In fact she commented one of the local clergy, who was amongst the first ordained as a women priest, would make a very good bishop.

Where do we go from here? None of us know and it will be interesting to see what happens later this morning. All I would say is that this is clearly now about what provision is provided for those who cannot accept women bishops rather than the idea of women bishops. The debate yesterday afternoon was mainly focused around this and I know that over the last couple of years it is what both sides have been arguing about. I hope and pray a solution is found and that the fear expressed in some of the speeches yesterday can be overcome.

I think this is where I go in a circle and to those who are reconsidering their future in the CofE after this vote, and various Facebook status’s I have read are indicative that some are doing just this, I would go back to the TDOR event and the Labi Siffre song. In the face of opposition it is important to hold on to that thing inside which is so strong and which has kept you there thus far. I’d also point you towards this post from Artsy Honker which contains much wisdom.

This morning, just as I stood last night (and continue to stand) with my transgender friends, so I stand in solidarity with my sisters (and brothers) in the CofE who are continuing their struggle for justice and the ability to be all that they truly are and were designed to be. Just as TDOR was in a strange way a celebration of hope after the emotional numbness of yesterday I now see the vote as a strange celebration of hope….the majority voted yes, the will of synod and the wider church is clearly yes and one day it will happen because there is something inside so strong.

A Year…..

Sunday morning service,

Sunday lunchtime train,

Sunday afternoon discussion

Sunday evening statement.

And my awkward explanation of why.

This was the beginning of Occupy.

 

Heading North to the Monument

Another prayer tent at another occupation

And a visit to the Turner Prize

Hope being expressed across the globe.

Another awkward yet hopeful post or two

near the beginning of Occupy.

 

A time for sober reconsideration

And a hit of reality

Middle class, single mother

Returns to “her real life”

And types another awkward post

as she stops camping with Occupy.

 

Camp she’s left gets attacked

By the right wing thugs

And discussions occur

About whether to carry on.

Her response another awkward post or two

about the continuation of Occupy.

 

Theology in a public space

Was one lens of interpretation

About the camp back in London

And faith engagement around the world.

Cue another awkward blog post  and then onetwo more

about this thing called Occupy.

 

In December Time Magazine

Named “The Protester” person of the year.

Analysis starts to get darker

But still too shiny and full of hope?

In this very awkward post

about the protests of Occupy.

 

A New Year

And The Monument is cleared

The voice of disillusionment chimes

With respect for E and RR, etc

In this post about the end

of the camp in Newcastle linked to Occupy.

 

January moves into February

And Occupy LSX

Is cleared from outside St. Pauls

By court order.

I sort of blog with a post of back links

about Occupy.

 

Almost 8 months on from that post

And they are in London again

Remembering and Celebrating

Keeping alive the Spirit.

And this is another crap post

full of back links about Occupy.

 

Time to stop….think…..reflect

Would I do it again?

Were they right?

Was it worth it?

What does this writer,

just another average blogger,

think about Occupy?

 

Answer….

The country and the world are arguably getting even more f***ed by the day. Karl wrote an excellent blog post yesterday discussing some of what’s happening and why the ideas being pursued are wrong. Institutional politics might be argued to still be failing us but is engaging with that more the only real way to change anything? I don’t know anymore….

The church (in both institutional and wider sense) are still focusing on dealing with the impacts rather than questioning how we change the systems of power and the structural inequality they create. On an institutional level there are spotlights being targeted, as this Church Times article  on the Occupy anniversary explains, but we’re still too busy arguing about things like gay marriage to give a damn about changing what really needs to be altered….in part one thinks because it would pose difficult questions for the institutions themselves as investors, landlords and the like and us as individuals who like our lives as they are.

Occupy was good for starting conversation but did it ultimately just raise expectations and then leave them screwed up on the ground like pieces of discarded cardboard? Is it we the Occupiers who are to blame? Should many of us been willing to sacrifice more? But could we have sacrificed more? I had to work, I had to bring up Third Party…..personal excuses which echo the many realities of life people faced.

Is an alternative actually possible?

Honest answer is one year on I’m not sure. That said I refuse to give up….if I do what faith do I really have? Why do I go to church and profess faith in a risen Christ if I can’t hold onto hope of a better, more just future? Why do I pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” if I’m not prepared to hope and work for change?

I don’t think that it means a neo-Marxist or anarchist vision of the future, but I do believe many of those involved in such groups have a glimpse of what might/ should be in terms of seeing the possibility of a world where social justice is a reality. They perhaps have more of an idea of what it means to try and live that line in the Lords prayer than many who would hold on to it and profess it regularly. That’s one reason why however little good I think it will do I’m intending to go on the TUC’s  A Future That Works demonstration next weekend.

So where do I/we go from here? Not sure…..not at all sure. Continue to try and pray and work it out one day/ one week at a time I guess. And probably alot more awkward blog posts along the way. If nothing else having something to look back on after Occupy – reminding me what happened when, and what I had to say about it at the time, has been useful for me.

nef go beyond wtf

So there has been a great deal of nonsense and hot air spouted about “The Big Society” and “New Austerity” from alot of different directions, including this one. The whole current situation gives us lots to think about, particularly if we are Christians who are by definition engaged in the voluntary sector or third sector by the very nature of some the activities churches do and have done. It can be difficult to know where to go to get any serious, useful information on the whole subject. Well my recommendation as a first port of call would be the new economics forum, which has the rather encouraging tag line of “economics as if people and planet mattered“. They have produced a 32 page report entitled “Cutting it: The ‘Big Society’ and the new austerity“, (available as a pdf download on the previous link).

The report raises some serious questions about the approach which is being taken, including whether the move to encourage more commercial involvement will actually take power away from local small organisations who actually know the areas they are working in.

The Faithworks movement has been involved in looking at these issues aswell and has been organising some local conferences.

I have a range of questions to ask though, in relation to churches involvement – which yet again fit in with the stuff I’ve been reading in Ann Morisy’s book Journeying Out :

1) Are we being reflective enough about our motives for engaging in The Big Society? Is it because we think the core aims fit in with our gospel call our is it because we hope this could be part of the answer to the crisis of secularisation? I hope it is the first, but part of me, (quite a big part of me), worries it is the second.

2) Are we being reflective enough about who our congregations are, what the demands upon them are and how their make up is going to change over the next few years? If we are seeking to look at how we deploy and use our volunteers we need to be realistic about who they are and what we are asking them to do. As I put it bluntly in an interview a few months ago, if we were seeing old people being used in any other sector how they’re used in the church we would call it exploitation.

3) Following on from this, whilst being open to the Spirit and the unreasonableness of God and faith (in a totally positive way), are we thinking strategically enough or are we currently being led by reactive practice?

4) Are we being imaginative enough in our approaches and deployment of the staff and resources we have? Or are we becoming defensive on such issues and engaging in damaging debates which are creating cultures of competition and or fear based purely on economic considerations?

5) Are we seeking to use our local knowledge and contacts in a way which benefits our communities or seeks to reassert or develop our own power and influence? Is there a conflict between the two?

Me, I don’t have the answers. I’m engaging in the same soul searching and wrestling as everybody else….but from a relative position of detatchment at the moment where I can pose the awkward questions.

Hope, dispair and questioning

I’m reading Ann Morisy’s book Journeying Out at the moment. I should only be up to chapter two, but have read some way ahead. (Note here, it’s our current reading group book which is why I should only be up to chapter two). It’s a book which is challenging me and disturbing  me as well as encouraging me. The key reason I think it’s having the effect on me it is is because of the contradictions in my own life at the moment where hope, dispair and questioning are interlinking and also forcing me to face up to questions about power and access.

I want to start by hope. Morisy’s book on one level is a book of hope because it tells what ordinary people do and have been doing. In places it talks about “random acts of kindness” but refers to them in relation to “social capital”. It also talks about the transforming power of volunteering and involvement upon the person who’s doing something. This made me think back outside the church again to my encounter with the Dundee LGBT group, which I blogged about recently. They’ve asked me to plug an event they’re doing soon and it gave me hope…emphasising how the acts of individuals in different places are helping change the world.

DLGBT are joining with Dundee Action Palestine to present the Bubble, (see the FB group), and are going to be doing a Skype chat with some people in the area where the film is set afterwards. The reason this gave me hope, and relates to the book is the event is really about story telling. The Skype chat after the film will, I guess, involve some story telling and will allow some stories from Tel Aviv to flow over to Scotland. Stories and storytelling as Morisy points out within her book have a huge power for transformation.

The dispair part of the post comes from some of my own feelings at the moment about life and more specifically about the lives of people who are not as fortunate as I am. I am currently feeling the effects both materially and emotionally of being skint and feeling squeezed. I am currently finding out what it is like to be trained and encouraged in one area but having, for a moment atleast, to take a job which does not use those skills. This is something I know alot of others are also struggling with at the moment. My biggest worry is about those at the bottom, like those single parents with children in junior school who are from today being forced to look for work and change the benefit they are on – see Gingerbread press release. My worry is that if graduates like me are being forced into the lowest sector jobs what are many of those with few or no qualifications (which single parents disproportionately make up) going to do? I am also just starting to get my head around what the spending cuts mean for me and my friends….I am currently more scared, I think than I have been for some time.

In Morisy’s book she talks about the way churches moved more into the “social outreach” and “professional services” sphere during the last recession, and may have inadvertantly secularised themselves. This move showed churches are good at this type of thing…something we already knew. Thus, the government strategy seems dependant on churches increasing this type of work and providing another safety net again. Something, we have shown we do well. However, things have changed. I honestly don’t think we understand how the current uncertainty and cuts are going to impact upon our churches as many of our members become unemployed, face cuts in their income in very real terms  or face huge uncertainty in their jobs, (bearing in mind the number of church members involved in the public services). Also I don’t think that the churches themselves have – in declaring their expertise in this area – been realistic about the effects which secularisation has had upon their membership and the demographic of many of their members. The sad fact is that alot of our church members are rapidly reaching their forth age, (another term Morisy talks about). I am starting to dispair about the reality of the situation we find ourselves in and how utterly unprepared we are for it.

Finally I am questioning the whole issues around power and coming alongside people. In recent weeks I have had to acknowledge I am technically “poor” and am amongst the marginalised on one level in our society. However, at the same time I am through where I am and the opportunities I am being given amongst the most priviledged. There has been help offered to me which I should have taken, but which I couldn’t psychologically allow myself to take – which I may yet need to, and help offered to me which I am taking but am struggling with. The main area I have struggled with is a recognition I have fallen into various “client groups” which I am happy to engage with from the position of helping but which I struggle to be part of.

In the book Morisy engages with both Liberation Theology and Queer Theology to some extent, (although she quotes James Alison more generally on resentment giving no clue to the fact it comes from a book which is doing queer theology….because that might just have to admit to the reader that queer theology goes beyond LGBT people and has something to teach straight people too). Anyway this means she obviously talks about coming alongside people, but she still refers to “the poor” and “marginalised” in terms of “the other” and argues that in churches we take a power position. She also makes the point that the increasing professionalisation of volunteering and engagement with “the other” may be damaging.

Now this has all disturbed me and left me questioning as I say. On one  level I am back in that place which my research stems from….and which I find confuddling…using many of the definitions I am “the other”, “the marginalised” the person who the text speaks of in terms of the church going out to – yet I am very much part of the church. Being openly gay, a single parent and more recently obviously poor I am the apparently under-represented within our churches. However, I know that often I am the unrecognised rather than the absent. The financial situtations of many in our churches is not what it may first appear. There are many closeted gay people or people who operate on the don’t ask, don’t tell principal because they just see their sexual orientation as a small part of what they are and don’t want to get embroiled in the politics. At the same time I am though I am the provider, the teacher and the obviously middle class who wants to go out and do something to help “them” whoever “they are”.

Life at the moment is developing in such a way that I am increasingly moving towards the likelyhood of at some point becoming “a professional” yet…..I know the limitations that gives as well as the opportunities and security. At the moment I am being able to be involved in some incredibly exciting stuff – like launching Maze, like Streetlights, like Greenbelt because I can choose what I volunteer with and get my experience from. If I were paid I would not have this choice.

On one level I am not doing all this for totally alturistic motives. I know I am too old to get an internship, even if they one were available – which it’s not – and so I therefore having to do my own set of networking and cv building for when I finish the research….bearing in mind where I know God has shown he is and is not leading me. I need to be gaining the experience these opportunities are giving me.But they are reinforcing to me that volunteering as a possibility is set up for those who have the luxury of being able to offer their time and resources for little or nothing, it is for those who have the luxury of time between jobs and family, or who are retired…volunteering is something the middle class do to make themselves feel useful.

This conflict and the different feelings I have generated further reinforce to me I have become subject to exactly the issues  Morisy talks about in her second chapter. In order to carry on doing what I love and what is transforming me I am needing to get more professionalised so that I can get paid for it.  Also doing the volunteering keeps me “happily middle class” and stops me falling totally into the pit of dispair marked “marginalised” or “victim” or “scrounger”….all of which are I think unfair terms for those we seek to walk alongside. I know I am not better than those I am seeking to help because I know in reality I am one of those I am seeking to help. Yet, if I acknowledge that equality with the most marginalised in our society I know I lose power….I acknowledge that I have lost choice….I allow myself to become somebody who has to take rather than give and I reinforce the stereotypes.

I know God through Jesus intentionally identified with those who were marginalised….Jesus was a Nazarene and in his early life a refugee. Jesus was an rabbi who spent three years wandering and sent his disciples out with nothing but the gospel message. Yet I know Jesus also was the giver….God is power and it was the power Jesus had and gave which transformed lives. Yet, this power was not status indeed Jesus was often critical of the power that came with status. I am questioning how to engage in discipleship,mission and worship (because I feel the three cannot be removed from each other) in our current culture without getting involved in the issues around “power”. Again this is something which worries me about the effects of the spending review as they come through.

I know some of the attitudes I’ve spoken about here and some of the contridictions and questions highlight where in my own life I need to constantly seek forgiveness and refer to how I need to deal with pride. At the moment I am wrestling with my faith in a way which is useful but hard.

If you are still here at the end of my rambling on …thank you.

Everyday Life

Following two v. sensible comments on yesterdays blog here are my replies.

1) TAZ stands for Temporary Autonomous Zone and Wiki gives a bit of background, but not that much. Basically it refers to temporary spaces which are outside the control of “the system”.  There are sorts of issues with this which I can’t be bothered to blog about.

2) In terms of A.’s comment which was: “Taz, Greenbelt whatever. What about the large number of Christians who work 9-5 (or 8-6+) Mon-Fri, need the weekend to catch up with housework and don’t get long academic holidays to swan around the country.” my response is as follows.

On one level TAZ, Greenbelt and stuff in the “whatever” category because they are generally things which don’t impact on the lives of alot of people. However, as ideas and spaces for discussion they do matter. Often discussions and things that people come across at places like Greenbelt filter down into local churches.  For Methodists, for example, Greenbelt matters because it is something that the national church is investing money into….money that could be used to help other projects if it weren’t being used for this. (Note I totally agree with the Methodist churches involvement with GB and intention to try and get more worship leaders, local preachers, deacons and presbyters to it to pick up ideas).

In terms of the other stuff….well I want to take this in two halves. Firstly, those working in academic settings. Yes they get longer holidays but those holidays are also often used for work. Certainly from my experience when I was working full time in FE and leaving the house at 7:15, getting into work at 8:15 and leaving between 5:00 and 5:30 to get home between 6 and 6:30 to cook tea and then work, marking and preparing, again from 7:30 – 10:00 (approx) most evenings then spending a large chunk of Saturday in the laundrette and trying to keep the flat from total disorganisation before doing church stuff and marking, prep on Sundays I understand the demands of those large numbers of Christians. The swanning around the country at weekends, which happened occassionally, was at that time often accompanied by marking and the cost of it was a less than spotless home. In terms of the holiday time Third Party and I have never, with the exception of the year I got a major tax return never been able to afford a “proper holiday”. For Christians like us Greenbelt was important because over the last decade it has been our family holiday.When she was v. little Spring Harvest fulfilled a similar role because they were cheap enough for us to go to, once you take into account they have stuff going on and so you don’t have to pay for extras. They also give discounts to people who are struggling. There are lots of Christians like us who have gone to these places because we can’t afford a week away anywhere else. Therefore, I slightly resent the implication that those in academia get to do things others can’t, it’s not that simple. In terms of this year I have had to work my Greenbelt ticket, and Third Party is working hers. TP got to go to Glastonbury because of my dads job and indeed she has had to work it. This is how it is for many people, we don’t simply swan off here and there, we get our breaks where we can and because of the hard work we do we sometimes find housework, beyond getting the washing done takes second place.

Anyway onto the “large number of Christians”. I think they need to be honoured and valued more and need to be encouraged and helped to encounter the resources that those of us who are able can. TAZ and stuff is important to these people because they need spaces where they can be and do what they want without fear of having people telling them off, because it’s not their cultural expression. Perhaps if more people got the spirit of these things we might have less people moving out the back door. That said for most people the daily stuggle of life, and church struggle of keeping the buildings together takes priority. It is a luxury of the middle classes to go beyond this. How do we deal with this? I don’t know, the middle class indulgence of the church is a problem that we all know about and many of us contribute to. I know I might be part of that problem. That is one reason why my current potential homelessness, my experience earlier in my life as a depressed single mum living on income  support (when I did incidently go to Spring Harvest precisely because I could go with a church group and it was cheap and I got a discount), my current inability to find a job are important…they help me understand. That said I know because I am part of a supportive network of friends, family and church that I will never know truly what it is like to struggle to survive totally without support or hope, and I will remain priviledged because of that support. I know that my exprience with the housing system will be different to those without literacy skills, without cultural understanding of the way “officialdom” works and you know what that is good because it makes me angry….angry because I know if I am struggling how much more will others struggle because of the system.

I am a hypocrite, I am living in lower middle class luxury,( despite my current circumstances), I do talk tosh which doesn’t resonate with alot of people, I am wierd, but I do care, I care about the people who come and clean our churches, who sit on our finance and property committees, who make the tea and without whom we wouldn’t have a church in this country. I care about God and love God but just do it in a different way sometimes thinking in a different way and having different discussions.

Um, not sure where that rant came from or what it actually was to do with, certainly not aimed at you A, more I think letting out something…..To those who are fed up with me or I frustrate look I use this blog to chat the shit going through my brain and sometimes as a space to respond to what others have written elsewhere, like I did with the TAZ stuff. Ultimately if you don’t like it or don’t like my life you don’t have to read it!!!!

Mixed Bags and Distilling the Useful Stuff

I have been thinking about different types of church and different types of training and things like that recently. For various reasons the whole question of  “how we do stuff” is looming large in my mind at the moment. I want to scream…….Now for various reasons this might not be the best place to have this discussion but for other reasons it is exactly the right place. I want your ideas and feedback.

My starting point is the church is a mixed bag and full of mixed ages. It also is a sub-culture, set of sub-cultures of its own. The majority of its members in the UK, particularly amongst white majority churches are of a certain age demographic (and yes I am aware there is plenty of life in many of them, yet). However, facts have to be faced, most of those under 35 in this country are unchurched and a vast number of the over 35s are dechurched, (many of the next age group up only having experienced church through Sunday School). Of the 45 and unders in church (and quite a few of the others who have the gen x or gen mindset) many are struggling with church because they don’t think it reflects them or more importantly the world. Yet at the same time there are many older people in our churches struggling with what has been lost and what appears, it seems, to becoming devalued. They look back and tell the stories of “how it was when…” and seem saddened.

In looking how to deal with this there are questions being asked about appropriate ways of training our leaders and future leaders. Do we train them for the now inside the church or for the now outside the church? Do we train them through distance learning or through bringing them in? Do we give them more widely recognised accreditation through part-time more rigerous courses or what?

The central questions for me seem to be:

1) How do we reach the unchurched?

2) How do we relate to the dechurched?

3) How do we support the thoroughly churched?

4) Do we want our lay leaders to be fully rounded and able to move between different groups and ways of doing church or do we want to have a dichotomy with people trained for different bits?

5) Can a training course be developed that can support both inherited and new ways of being church together?

6) What is the place for multi-generational church in all this?

7) How do we handle the realtity that in 20/30 years time many of the people currently in church will be dead and this is already having an impact on our buildings and congregations?

8 ) Where is God and his vision in all this? How do we plan but also allow for the powerful and awesome revitalising work of the Holy Spirit?

9) How are we going to fund things? What decisions do we need to be making now to train people and prepare people for the long term future?

10) What does mission really mean to us today?

I don’t have the answers, but I/ we need them. I am currently preparing a presentation on “the challenge of developing Christian Community amongst unchurched 20 and 30 year olds” and that has made me think loads. But the questions it is raising, particularly as I research, are not comfortable questions. One big issue for me, beyond all the obvious ones about how do we reach these people and build Christian Community with them is what their relationship with “inherited church” will be. How will those within inherited church be able to learn from them and interact with them but also how will those within inherited church mentor and support them. It has to be two way. At the moment a two and in reality probably atleast a six way dichotomy is emerging. Firstly there are the fault lines between “old” ways of being church and “inherited ways of being church”, (and I make the distinction here to show the difference between mainstream inherited and “old” more conservative ways which feel threatened by the way “mainstream inherited” forms are evolving). Then there are the fault lines between these two groups and “fresh expressions” and “emerging church”.  Within the latter two there are the fault lines between those who are working within and those who are working outside the denominational structure. Finally there is the final dichotomy which goes across the others between “evo/ pentecostal” churches and “mainstream/ liberal” churches. Then there is the whole “high” and “low” division. How do we bridge all of this to be “church” together? I am part of “the body” with all these people. In relating to those within and beyond the church I want to be able to signpost them into the right type of Christian Community for them and build the community with people where they are. This means I want to build community across the divide. For many of us eccumenicalism is taken as granted, but how do we then engage in a similar process for “the mixed economy”?

Listening to stories involves listening to those who look with sadness on some developments within the church and distilling what they are saying which is of worth rather than resentment, as much as it does listening to those outside the church and distilling what they say which is of worth rather than cynicism. We also need to support all these people aswell as those who in the mist of all this are sitting on the edge of our churches praying WTF God?

So that means that those who are being called into leadership of whatever kind, including and perhaps particularly lay, need to be trained appropraitely for this. We should not be in a position of having to choose between courses which are aimed at supporting the different types of church but not at supporting the reality of difference within the whole.

I want to be able to be trained up with a course which teaches me how to:

1) Reach out to and help develop faith within those who are unchurched

2) Reconnect with and help develop faith within those who are dechurched

3) Support the growth and discipleship of those on the edges of our churches who are praying WTF?

4) Support the growth and discipleship of those who have faithfully served our churches for years and have much to teach us if we listen to their stories and distill what might be transferable into the current age and variety of sub-cultures we face.

  I want to know how to share the gospel, in appropriate ways, with all these people according to the time and place I am in. I do not want to be taught in away which confines me to one time, place or group of people when that is not the world I live in! I want to build community, learn from and share the gospel with all the nations*! (* for nations read sub-cultures and groups). I want recognition that we are a hinge generation! (Note here much of post-modernist theory as it was related to the church in pop-form during the 90’s was crap but the whole hinge thing wasn’t…..current leaders in the 15-45 age group particularly are hinges. Our lay training needs to reflect this!!!!).

Apologies for a long rant, but I needed to scream this out this morning in order to make room for some more reasoned and mature evaluation and decision making.

Church and Disability

Surfing has written a moving and insightful post about her experience of church as somebody with an unseen disability. Whilst I don’t have anywhere near the same issues going on, (not having ADD) and different issues with my dyslexia church has been an area where stuff has sometimes been an issue, particularly with the move to technology.

I have, over time, had strange reactions to the move away from hymn books and towards the projection of words. Reactions that I could not explain apart from saying, “but I struggle”. Reactions that at the time seemed linked to my love of “the traditional” and uncomfortableness with some of the changes in the church, particularly away from pews and hymn books. Over time it became clear to others I think that my struggles with the overhead projector or computer generated words were something real, even if I did express my frustration too loudly sometimes. I really do struggle with things like yellow words on a blue background and huge screens which I have to follow the words on. A couple of years back the reason became clear, I do have dyslexia and have all the signs of Iren Syndrome. This means that I have a limited rectangle of vision which is smaller than most peoples and I can have a tendancy to miss words out when I’m reading or writing. On a screen I can get very lost as to which line we are on. I really do find a hymn book or printed set of words easier to deal with, preferably a large print because of the nature of having to keep focused on exact words during singing. If it is a screen there are certain font styles and backgrounds which are easier to deal with, but I know these differ for different people. Personally I find light grey or similar easiest and the thinner the screen the better. I also find it easiest when as little text as possible is projected at one time.

The thing is with both Surfing’s disability and mine is that they are unseen. People don’t know and we tend to put in strategies which make it easier, (and despite my going off on one when a move away from hymn books was becoming more popular), and don’t make a fuss. We just get on with it wishing that people would pick up on what disability awareness within the church might mean. It’s not all to do with hearing or mobility based disabilities, (although loop systems, ramps and lifts, etc are vital), it actually encompasses alot more.