Tag Archives: Ranting

Top Uni = Good Teacher?

Ok, with the reintroduction of the married persons tax allowance I was almost thinking about voting Tory at the next election. However, yesterday I came back down to earth and remembered the problem…they take a bit of a good idea and blow it. The BBC and Guardian amongst others have covered Cameron’s ideas for elitist teaching.

Here is my response, as a teaching professional who has in my time achieved an award from the college I was working in for outstanding teaching and learning, (following being judged as outstanding in an internal inspection) and more importantly somebody who has taught several cohorts of students who have achieved above their target grades in my subject, many getting A-C grades at A Level. I have also taught on access programmes where a number of students have gone on to do teaching degrees. (Note this is not put in to show off in anyway, but to show that I might just be a good teacher and know what I’m talking about on the subject in hand). In addition to teaching I have also been a course leader for a group of social science and humanities subjects and a senior tutor/ course leader for A2 within the academic section of college. This was a role which included being involved in recruitment.

Anyway, here goes with what might turn into a rant. I agree with Cameron’s assessment that anybody with a third class degree or lower should probably not be a teacher. However, within the speech there is also descrimination, (particularly in terms of funding), against those who have 2:2’s and went to new universities…people like me, infact. In my experience many of the best teachers have done their first degrees as mature students, often with the OU or through one of the new universities. The reason we generally make good teachers is because we have the life experience to understand our students whilst giving no room for complacency or excuse. Somebody comes to me with time management issues and I can not only give them strategies, I can empathise because I know what it is like to juggle full time work with A Levels, (and a MA incidently) and part-time work, (as well as a baby), with an undergraduate degree.

Also, Cameron’s plans do not allow for those of us who take our time to work up to a good university. I am now studying for my M Litt in a Theology department which can describe itself in the following way, “The Department is pleased to announce that in the Research Assessment Exercise for 2008, it has been ranked at no. 1 among all departments of theology and religion in the UK in two categories: (a) the highest percentage of publications at 4* (world-leading research) and (b) the highest Grade Point Average for these publications. This is a major achievement, which confirms Durham University’s position as a front-rank institution for Theology and Religion and reflects its continuing leadership in the academic discipline.”
Yet and here is the thing, I started off with awful A Level results which meant I went to the one place in the country which would accept me to do a degree, through clearing. It was a higher education college, (now a new uni), which gave degrees validated by a good uni. I got a 2:2 from there. After my falling apart period I did a MA course part time, but just came out with a post graduate diploma because I didn’t quite get the dissertation done.

For me it was doing my PGCE which allowed me to fly. I went into the classroom and after an initially difficult start on the course found something, possibly for the first time in my life, I was reasonably good at. After my PGCE I eventually did my MA, (part time again), at a university Cameron would describe as one of the better uni’s, (but probably not good as it is only about 50 years old), and achieved a merit. I am now studying for my M Litt at what Mr. Cameron would describe as a good university. Oh, and I’m not sure how me being a teacher who has dyslexia, (something only diagnosed within the last couple of years), would rate me in Mr. Cameron’s world.

I tell my story to illustrate how teaching can allow “average” achievers to bloom into much higher achievers if it is the right thing for them. Similarly, if you looked you would probably find many people who have got excellent qualifications on paper aren’t right for a classroom. Patience, creativity, good communication skills, enthusiasm, the willingness to go the extra mile in the preperation of resources or support of students …these, aswell as clear, consistent boundaries and a good understanding of the subject, are what make a good or indeed outstanding teacher. Under Cameron’s plans to make teaching a “brazenly elitist” occupation I would have struggled to make it anywhere near a classroom.

Another aspect of all this though, is what level of teaching is right for a graduate of that level to keep them stimulated. I know a wonderful Maths student ,who has a first in her undergraduate degree from an excellent uni and is about to submit her PhD thesis at another really good uni; just the sort of person Cameron wants to attract into a teaching career. I also know that she would make an excellent teacher, but at the right level. If she went into teaching I have no doubt she would make the best impact and be working most strongly to her strengths in one of the new uni’s. If she went into a classroom full of 13 year olds in the type of school Cameron wants to attract these teachers to I think they would eat her alive, or she would end up on a disciplinary for being too forthright with them. Most importantly though, I know she would probably end up getting bored in a school because if it worked out and she did become a good teacher she would be quickly promoted, due to all those skills Cameron is looking for, and end up far too quickly as an administrator rather than a teacher….that’s the way the profession works.

Anyway rant over.

Punk Theology and Stuff

The sky blue size 5 DM’s kicked themselves into a world
Where people listen to classical music
And call things by posh french names I don’t even know the meaning of.
The Marxists would argue I am suffering from cultural deprivation
Me, I just laugh and say they’ve let me in the academy to do
Punk theology and stuff

The talk around the table takes the elaborated code
and then elaborates it some more
Suddenly I feel like the guy from the estate
Who uses the restricted code and then wonders what’s going on
When they start using words he doesn’t understand
But hey, I’m here to do punk theology and stuff

They all want to go into academia
Sometimes mixing it with the formal ministry
that many of them have already been trained to do.
Me I smile and realise that that’s their world, so cool,
As for me I’m an interpreter
Doing punk theology and stuff

They want to explore the exact meaning
Of obsure biblical verses and concepts
Or have obsessions about death and dying.
Up the road they’re into professional development
Looking at the practical and theological because of their jobs.
Me I’m just doing punk theology and stuff

In our churches there is an idea
That the academics and professionals do proper theology
Whilst the bum in the pew does “ordinary” theology
Just by working out their lives
There’s meant to be a gap
where I’m doing punk theology and stuff

In our churches there is an idea
That feminist theology is about inclusive language and women in leadership
Or maybe about the experience of women in the south
They ignore the western single mother; the working woman trying to fit in church and life
Or the elderly women shouldering the burden of the everyday tasks
That you find in punk theology and stuff

The Clash told me that the Sex Pistols taught them
“It didn’t matter if you couldn’t play too well”
The thing was they picked up an instrument or a mic and played
Expressing humour, frustration, anger and occassionally insight
Or going back to some old stuff and playing around with it
That’s what I’m doing with punk theology and stuff

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVygiX0KEEw[/youtube]

* Note, the clash line quoted comes from the “Capital Radio” interview on The Story Of the Clash. The You Tube clip shows how punk and the Clash, particularly, has alot to teach the church and theologians.

Academia, Impact, Funding and the F Word

A quick surf around certain bits of blogland and / or the inbox at the moment gives a few things to think about…largely, but not exclusively relating to academia….and also to the F Word (feminism).

Head into the Heavens has decided to blog some of her previous academic work, including her undergrad dis on “Feminist Fandom: Exploring the precarious relationship between third-wave feminism and television, with reference to Sex and the City and The L Word.” Have to say that anything bringing in Sex and the City and The L Word is going to be interesting to me, but maybe because I have way too much time for certain types of US dramas.

As an undergrad dissertation it shows the passion which a first degree can generate, which is what often leads onto the desire to study the subject further at post-grad level. This is why the recent decision of the Univeristy of Sheffield, (reported by Maggi Dawn and others) to take the axe away from their undergrad Biblical Studies course is really important.

The move onto post-grad study though is not easy and not getting easier. Too often the funding is a major issue, an obsticle which cannot be overcome easily. I have been lucky and stupid in equal measure I think. Others are more sensible and find part-time study the only way to fulfil their potential when they discover they can’t get funding to go full time. The goal posts for funding are constantly changing according to the whims (sorry recommendations) of the research councils. The newest consideration to be taken into account is “impact”. This is something which Feminist Philosophers have been discussing. The writer here comes to the conclusion that the government should fund only on academic excellence. This is a difficult one for me, being aware that my “non standard profile” particularly not having achieved a first (or indeed a 2:1) in my undergrad degree was one of the major reasons I could not achieve funding. However, when I see extremely talented students like the writer of this blog forced to go part-time because of not being allocated funding I have to say I get angry and can see the value of this petition.

In terms of what impact means, well it’s one of those buzz words which is easier to say than to measure. Academia and good academics are important, just as are interpreters, entrepreneurs and other people who might gather in “the public square” to debate, network and influence each other. Whilst I am not a huge fan of “academic loans” as somebody who has taken one out this year to finance my study I have to say I can see their place and importance. Whilst we are seeking to get personal debt under-control and stop students taking on ridiculous amounts the way US students particularly are able to obtain them in a way that UK students aren’t is creating an uneven playing field. If we want British academia to flourish we need to sort out the post-grad funding system, as much as the under-grad. Throughout the country we have world class departments who are not getting exceptional potential full time students because of this funding issue.

Another winter of discontent….where are we going?

I am writing this looking out at a perfect autumn morning. The cathedral tower stands high amid a sky of grey and the trees are a mix of yellow and dull green, a change from their summer vibrancy. The party conferences are drawing to an end and the shops are mixing halloween wares with Christmas goods. Autumn is well and truly here, winter is on it’s way.

Are we heading into a winter of discontent as a Labour government past its sell by date limps towards the next election? I suspect we are. The problems in the economy are widespread and the effects of late / post-modernity are hitting home as companies have decide how to respond. People are dejected and one has to smile slightly re-reading the words of hope that Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle wrote back in 1996 within The Blair Revolution Can New Labour Deliver?

“Modernisation is more than developing a package of attractive propositions that can win Labour power. It is about working through a credible strategy for successful government that avoids the failiures of the past." (pp vii-viii). The fact is that it is not the policies of the past which have caused many of the problems it has more to do with the way businesses, governments, unions and individuals all act in times of uncertainty and instability.

The postal workers strike sums this up well and illustrates why we will be entering a winter (or possible several winters) of discontent and why yet again the unions will be painted as the "baddies" to be attacked when they are actually seeking to protect jobs.

To set the scene for those outside the UK it goes something like this. Once upon a time we had a a communications service to be proud of. A nationalised industry with it's problems, yes, but the GPO was a good organisation on the whole. There were two postal deliveries a day and most people were well placed to be able to get to a post office which would sell stamps, distribute pensions and benefits and act as a hub of the community because everybody tended to use it regularly.

Then Mrs. Thatcher decided to sell of British Telecom to make a bit of money and get everybody hooked on the capitalist dream of ownership. Whilst ideologically I may disagree her thinking was sound in its own way – if you agree with Milton Friedman’s monetarist view of economics. She didn’t go for the Royal Mail though, like university tuition fees she thought that the people would think that was a step too far. In 1997 along came Blair and New Labour who decided to extend the Thatcherite agenda and did introduce tutition fees and introduce competition into the postal service. The Royal Mail lost its monopoly and what was intended to bring efficiency has, arguably, led to a butchering of an excellent postal system. Many sub-post offices have shut down and many local communities are dying as a result. There is now just one delivery a day in many places and ….well I could go on. To be fair the postal system would have had to change to reflect the technological changes which have occurred. We now live in a technological age when it is easier for one computer to transfer money to another computer and for you to use a card to turn it into cash, rather than taking a quaint ickle book into the post office to get it stamped. We also, more importantly, have an age of e-mail where letter writing is being replaced to some extent.

The combined effect of this is that the Royal Mail is in trouble and needs to sort itself out and modernise. It is the way to modernise and the effect on the workers that is the issue here.
The Communication Workers Union is describing the situation in this way:
“We need a national agreement which secures a fair deal on modernisation and reward for the efforts of postal workers in transforming the business. We want reassurances on job security, covering both redundancies and full-time part-time ratios.

“Crucial to an agreement is fair workloads with agreed standards of measurement. Constantly disciplining postal workers will not improve efficiencies but will drive an ever bigger wedge between workers and what they are told is modernisation.

“We’ve seen cuts and increased workloads and now we need an agreed roll-out of real modernisation. Aligning the interests of customers, employees and the company as a whole is a pre-requisite for the successful modernisation of Royal Mail.

“The Government must act now to resolve the pensions deficit which is crippling the Royal Mail’s finances and chances to modernise effectively.”
In reply the Royal Mail is labelling the unions action as unjustified and saying on their web site
““The changes include the introduction of more flexible working as we respond to the changing marketplace and ensuring people work the hours for which they are paid, using the tools for the job such as new automated sorting equipment and handheld tracking devices. Taken together, this means that over 85% of mail is now walk sorted with Royal Mail on track to complete its modernisation plans, of which these changes mark the latest phase.

“As always, the company will be focusing on delivering excellent customer service over the vitally important run-up to Christmas when letter numbers reach their seasonal peak. Royal Mail calls on the CWU to abandon its unjustified strikes and to help the business deliver the service our customers deserve.”
So what we have is a dispute about jobs and job security in a difficult business environment. The post-office wants to bring in more flexible working to reduce costs whilst the CWU wants to safeguard the jobs and working conditions of its members. Both are in some ways suffering from the effects of Thatcherite policies which New Labour accelerated.

As for the rest of the world we may aswell be back in 1970 something….The Telegraph reports it this way and the SWP is reporting it this way.

As for the customer….well you and I will suffer whilst the big boys take their business elsewhere. Amazon has already taken away its contract and is using another provider, according to the Guardian. The horrible truth is that modernisation is required, but it has a human cost. This is true in the public sector as a whole. As a society we need to decide what our values are and how do we fight for them? Do we value cheap products or job security? Do we believe that some services are best provided by state owned institutions or should a market economy be totally embraced….with its philosophy of survival of the fittest? If we believe that a safety net is needed who should it be there to provide for and what conditions should be attached? What are our rights and responsiblilities to each other….do we have any?

As we limp towards the next election and seek to influence our politicians these are the questions we must be asking ourselves…..and coming to our own conclusions to these difficult questions. These then are the sorts of questions, without giving partisan answers, our churches should be helping us answer perhaps.

Exploding Wilt and tearing the heart out

Last night I walked into the A Level section of the local college and sat watching a presentation given by a 30 something, 5ft 3ish tutor with glasses, dressed smartly in the usual FE type outfit of Next trousers, white top and black cardigan. The woman giving the presentation introduced herself as “one of the Sociology teachers and an AS tutor”. The words she spoke were all too familiar to me, I had spoken them on various occassions over the last decade…the only things that were slightly different were her name and the references to Durham and the exact achievement / latest Ofsted inspection results. In short I had the wierd experience of walking into my world on the opposite side of the table. I was a parent, a customer, somebody to be pursuaded that FE colleges were not like Wilt, but rather places of outstanding learning which treated the young people like adults but still had high standards, good results and included parents in the whole process. I was sitting there watching somebody who was uncannily like me do my job whilst I took on an unfamiliar role.

(Aside note here if a certain person who hates my inability to drop the jargon totally is reading…this woman even had a picture of signposts on the slide where she was talking about progression and signposting people on).

What was key in the presentation was ensuring that parents and students both understood that whilst college isn’t school the expectations are very much like school. It is a work environment where the end goal is to achieve a qualification and then progress on either into the workplace or onto a higher level course. The only ways to achieve this are through regular attendance, appropriate behaviour, doing the work and using the support available if you need it – (and there is alot of support available).

The quest to project the professional image and explode the Wilt image is key to FE. They have increasingly experienced the darker side of the marketisation of education since colleges were taken out of local authority control with incorporation during the early 1980s. They have also been shafted consistently by governments who through their funding allocations and policy decisions have continued to ensure that a level playing field does not exist. Lecturers in colleges get paid less than school teachers doing the same job, many colleges are in chaos after they were encouraged to start desperately needed rebuilding projects but then the LSC realised there wasn’t the money available afterall (see this BBC report) and our courses are under increased pressure due to LSC restrictions on student numbers.

The pressure on colleges is to get more paying customers through the door, but paying customers who will be retained and achieve appropriately. It is no longer ok for people to choose to learn as a leisure activity, it has to have a measurable outcome that can contribute to the economy. In this mad world professionalism is important and is there but is measured in the wrong ways. In this world there is no place for the boho teacher who is helping the educated, older woman who has come back to college as a way to get out of the house and doesn’t want to take the exam, but does want to learn about literature, history or sociology. Equally there is no place for the slightly scatty and unkempt lecturer who is a both eccentric and traditional, relying on the chalk and talk approach with lots of handouts and practice papers but does it wonderfully, keeping his students hanging on his every word and swearing a bit if they do happen to drift off….getting a student through with a very low grade, but enthusing him about a subject and in the process stopping him from dropping out totally and just withdrawing into a world of hedonistic activity. In the new world these wonderful teachers are being squeezed out by increasingly strict dress codes, like the one reported in this BBC article, (hat-tip to Maggi for highlighting it).

Personally in my teaching career I do go for the well turned out approach, but as I have become more confident and as my wage increased I moved away from the New Look, Dorothy Perkins, M&S, Next suit approach. My chosen uniform took the form of a smart long, stretchy M&S Per Una skirt, M&S t-shirt or long sleeved top, underneath a Next or M&S jacket. Sometimes this would be varied and a smart Next jumper would take the place of the jacket and top. The reasons for this look, (i) I chose stuff that you didn’t have to spend ages ironing, (2) I found it lasted longer, (3) it was a look I could carrier off better and so actually looked smarter in and (4) I felt more comfortable in it and so was more confident in my teaching. Occassionally, particularly in the summer term if I did not have a meeting with a parent or external visitor, I would wear a smart pair of brown or black jeans with my jacket and t-shirt. This is a look it has been commented upon actually suits me and makes me look quite smart.

As I hope you can tell I do value professionalism in FE, but not the type of professionalism that comes about through too many constraints on staff and is market focused. Rather I value the type of professionalism which is student centred and which really does care about the teaching and learning taking place. Bad teachers should have no place in FE, but slightly eccentric ones – if they are good at their jobs – should.

Beyond the Mail and the Express

Beyond the Mail and Express headlines run another set of stories about the immigration system in this country. They are the stories increasingly being picked up by the religious press and others, but only representing the tip of the ice-berg. Sitting with a close friend recently and realising her lack of knowledge and shock as we listened to someone talk about their work and the situation of asylum seekers in this country I was aware, again, of how hegemony works and how the myths of the Mail and Express (and certain political groups) get watered down and into the consciousness of even the most wonderful wooly liberals.

The Baptist Times this week carries the story of a youth worker who has headed back to Malawi because of the way the immigration service have treated him.
The Church Times recently had this harrowing account of an immigration service raid on a vicarage where an asylum seeker was being given sanctuary.

Whilst, from the dates within it, it appears to have be a couple of years old this material by Indergit Bhogal , (a former President of the Methodist Conference) on Unlocking the Doors is an informative and very useful Christian based information resource

As a starting point for anybody interested in finding out the fact rather than the fiction about asylum I would say go to the Refugee Council website. It also outlines campaigns which those of us who are shocked when we begin to realise the truth of how our “civillised” country treats people can get involved in.

Screaming into cyberspace

Arrrrggggghhhhhhh.

Just had to let that out. A friend of mine once commented that I always seem to find the complicated way of doing everything. Certainly seems like that at the moment.

In a simple world the first career development loan application would have gone through ok. As it is the other provider who the second application went into says they are waiting to hear back from the Learning and Skills Council, what for I don’t know, and I will have their decision by the end of the week. That’s great the next fee installment is due the first week of October so if they say no I have a week to sort out a plan b.

In a simple world I would have picked up the right e-mail or gone to the right room to pick up the right envelope and known the details of an important meeting for work before not after the event.

Oh and in a simple world one could fall in love without having to face the issues that come with being part of a single parent package forming a new relationship.

Oh and thank you to the CBI for these suggestions on student funding which sods law says will be taken up by the next government in some form and probably implemented in about 2012.

Ok moan over. Thank you to anybody who has listened to this, sometimes it’s just good to let it out.

As a bit of light relief I leave you with the Billy Connolly mockery of D-I-V-O-R-C-E which I introduced Third Party to this weekend as she was having a bit of a Dolly Parton moment with her You Tube surfing.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzZzGxReXmo[/youtube]

*Edited additional para* To clarify though I look around at some of the amazing people on the Wibsite and elsewhere and realise my life is actually very blessed and the issues are (i) largely of my own making and (ii) small things in the overall scheme of life. I am having a moan this morning because I know that it is in many ways the easiest way to get my network supporting me in prayer. That’s the wonderful thing about being part of dispersed communities like the Wibsite and having friends all over the world / UK you can post stuff like this and know people will be supporting you in prayer.
Aware of the issues of not giving too much private info away on public websites, but sometimes opening up a bit of your own vulnerability is necessary. Besides benefitting myself I hope people will see that life is simply life and as Christians we go through the same ups and downs as everybody else. However, we have an awareness (sometimes) that God is with us as we go through “stuff” and that can be a source of strength. Also as Christians we have the ability to pray. If we can be more honest about the prayer thing perhaps it will help others feel willing to ask for prayer from us themselves. Really believe that being willing to listen and pray is an important gift we can give to everybody whether they happen to be Christian or not.

On lessening divides

Miffy has raised an interesting question, following on from the post yesterday, about “how do we lessen the split”. I assume she is talking about the “split” I referred to between “professional clergy and academics” and “the layity”. Although she could also be referring to the split between “those in church” and “those out of church” or “the split” which is apparently related to the issue of sexuality in the church.

The short answer is I don’t know, and if I did I would probably be doing a totally different piece of research to that which I am. However, having engaged with this question in my own mind and to a lesser extent with others I do have some tentative ideas to share.

1) The role of “informal” networks.
We should not under-value the role of informal networks where people get to engage with each other. Thinking “virtually” The Ship of Fools provides a space where this informal interaction takes place. This means that whilst the professionals have to be sensible about what they post, as they are not posting in an official capacity but their comments are in the public domain a space does exist to debate issues in a serious and intellectual way. So discussion boards are one space.
A second “virtual” space is through the blogosphere. The comments sections of blogs provide useful spaces for the interaction, atleast theoretically. Examples I can think of where the professionals and non-professionals can debate and discuss relevent issues through blog posts and reaction to those blog posts include: Jonny Baker, Maggi Dawn, Steve Taylor (Emergent Kiwi) and Ian Mobsby amongst others. Again on their blogs the issue does exist about how what is appropriate to put into the public domain and what is appropriate to include and exclude from the topics blogged upon. Therefore in reality any professional topic that is discussed will have been heavily mediated in order to make it sutible for a totally open access context.
Facebook groups are / can be another way of engagement.

In terms of “the real world” informal opportunities for engagement occur in any space shared by the professional and the non-professional. As any Christian should recognise, from the gospels aswell as from contemporary practice, chatting over food and drink make excellent opportunities. I would want to put in a couple of points here though:
a) people need leisure space to just chill outside of their work situation. If you are in an informal setting with “the professional” it may be that what they need most is to just be without engaging in any work related talk. Therefore, think about the appropriateness of these opportunities and where everybody is at before engaging in that type of topic.
b) for effective sharing there needs to be trust and respect. Unless the conversation is between people who already know each other well there does need to be an understanding of the boundaries which may well need to be in place for the conversation. These might be boundaries of confidentiality, an understanding of the context and nature of informal conversation – where neither side is able to find themselves coming away with expectations which are unrealistic or will be unmet or issues to do with the nature and negotiation of power relations.

2) The role of academic and theological education
Practical Theology, at the moment, is largely a male-stream activity engaged in by professionals. A greater appreciation of what Jeff Astley calls “ordinary theology” and an attempt by those offering theological education to encourage more lay people to take their “ordinary theology” and turn it into research projects would mean (i) more people would be engaging in the discipline and (ii) more issues relating to women, particularly “ordinary bums on pews” women would be included. For this to work, in any meaningful way, a few things need to happen:
a) practical theology courses need to be marketed less as cpd qualifications. Rather they need to be advertised as a way for people to engage and reflect on their faith in an academic way. They also need to be marketed from level 3 qualifications onwards I would argue. This might mean that those who have been engaging in lay activities within the church are encouraged to develop their thinking and reflect on their practice by doing a practical theology course. I acknowledge that there atleast three problems with this:
(i) time commitments, many of these people will have families and full or part time jobs which they juggle along side voluntary activities in church and often community.
(ii) the demand for these courses may make it difficult for them to run. They would certainly need to be developed ecumenically and across a fairly wide geographical area. This may mean a large component of distance or virtual learning would be involved.
(iii)cost. If we are encouraging those who engage in practice to develop this into practical theology they need a motivation. For the professional the value of the qualification is clear. How do we encourage others to engage and invest in the activity? Is some kind of subsidy going to be needed and if so where would it come from?
In these courses professionals and layity could perhaps come together within the classroom situation.

b) Could some kind of practical theology component be more explicitly included within existing courses? If so could these courses be marketed to the professionals as refreshers and a way to (re)engage with the grass roots by studying issues of practice with them?

c) public / open lectures / seminars. If more academic lectures were open to the public and appropriately marketed perhaps this would lead to a higher level of engagement.

d) more oppotunities for professionals who are studying on the cpd type courses and people of faith on other courses to come together for conferences to discuss their work from a point of view which is both academic but also explicitly faith based. Having spent this week engaging, basically, in such an activity it has been brilliant.

3)The role of local church organisations
There could, perhaps, be one evening a quarter when professionals and layity from an area could perhaps be invited to come together to discuss the issues currently effecting both church and society/ culture. This would be eccumenical and people could come together to simply talk….on an equal basis contributing their own stories and experiences. Again clear boundaries would be needed, and if the group was large they would need to split down but it’s an idea.

People involved in working with specific groups in society could be encouraged to come together and share. For example you could, again quaterly, have a day or an evening where everybody in faith groups locally who works with the elderly could be invited to come together and discuss their experiences, regardless of role. This might mean you would have a care worker engaging with a social services director and a priest on this topic together. They would all have relevent skills. Whilst the care worker may or maynot have the same literacy and educational levels as the two “professionals” they would be able to share their experiences in the same way. Within this they could discuss what they see as the role of God, the church, faith in their work situation or provision for older people generally.
* This leads us onto the issue of language. Whilst not seeking to disempower through dumbing down there should be an aim to have inclusivity through the use of the language used. It should be as informal as possible.

4) The role of formal networking opportunities.
Small groups, similar to housegroups, might be formed. The role of these would not be traditional bible study, etc of the comprehension form. Rather they could be set up with the group using consensus to set up clear boundaries and understandings again, but operate in a totally non-hierarchal way. They could be places where a mix of people, both professional and lay could come together and over a glass of wine or whatever discuss the issues that they think are relevent in the church, wider culture or whatever and support each other. Again time is an issue here and so they should be just monthly or something with a very fluid approach of if you can make it great if you can’t hey…stuff happens.

None of these ideas will be new and I guess they are probably happening in lots of places…we just don’t get to hear. I don’t know who I have been influenced by in this thinking….beyond hanging out this week with John Drane and the DMin crowd…..I think that it’s just Miffy has asked the question and this is what my, slightly over active, mind came up with.

Change and “Mission”

Even though I might have switched codes I still enjoy looking at the Baptist Times each week. This week there were two articles which caught my eye and made me think. The two were kind of linked. The first one was a column by Sarah Parry about Change and the second was about mission grants.

The first article discusses Ibsen’s play Ghosts and highlights the fact that change is not easy; it has consequences not only for ourselves but for others. This, she argues, is as true for churches as it is for individuals.

The second article highlights three projects aimed at connecting those outside the church with Christianity. The projects differ in nature, but are all related to people going out into their communities in a relevant way to connect.

Together, for me, they highlight how reaching the place where the types of initiative talked about in the second article occur is not a simple process.

Now, I don’t know if / how I’ll ever be involved in any of the types of things the second article talks about. I have heart for “mission” and particularly helping single parents connect with God and knowing the love he and his church has for them, and practically supporting them, but I don’t know how that will all play out in my future. I hope that I might one day I might find a way for something practical to come out of my research, but who knows. Perhaps I am too much of a dreamer and not enough of a doer….

What I do know though is that the journey I am currently on has involved change and difficult change at that. It has not involved change just for me but for others, most obviously Third Party. Change has a cost, as Parry points out in her article. Having had a bit of previous training in Economics as part of my undergrad studies I understand the concept of cost benefit analysis well. Yet, I miscalculated the costs hugely on this one and the benefits. Until change starts happening you can only guess as what the costs and benefits are going to be for you and those around you. Fortunately, at the moment, I am in a place where I can see that the costs might have been high but the overall benefits may have been even higher with my current adventure for both Third Party and myself. Yet I don’t know. One of the big problems is that when you undetake change you can only truly see the costs and benefits in retrospect. That is why change is so highly based around risk.

Effective mission, as the article shows in some ways, is also based around risk. It is involved in taking the risk of moving away from some traditional models, (although not abandoning them necessarily), and risking new initiatives. As an article by Graham Cray in the most recent edition of the Fresh Expressions news letter makes clear this may involve moving to more incarnational ways of doing things.

Risk gives fear, and change isn’t always good as the first article shows. Yet as the second one illustrates it can be good. Change isn’t for everybody and sometimes we need to let people be as they are. That’s why as Bishop Cray points out in his article that the mixed economy approach to church is important. We will only see the costs and benefits of what’s happening in the church now down the line, but I have to say reading about the things going on around the country I feel pleased about the changes which are occuring and inspired by those who have been willing to go through the pain of change and take the risks.

A Very English Experience

Herrington Country Park, just outside Sunderland, provided a very English Sunday experience yesterday. There were ducks and geese on a serene lake, lush green grass sloping in various directions and a strange stone sculpture on the horizon, but within the park, in one direction. In the other direction you could look over and see the Penshaw Monument. There were children riding bikes with and without stabilisers, running along, being carried on shoulders or pushed in buggies. Dogs were wandering obiedently along and a cool breeze was blowing. The sky was a mix of grey and blue, threatening but never giving a shower. There was an unexplainable beauty and calm within the scene which was, as I say, quintessentially English.

However, I suspected looking at it that this very English scene was a redevelopment of the landscape and a quick trip around the internet, finding some beautiful photos along the way, confirmed. The clues were in the signposts and the layout. It was all just a little too polished. The signs pointing to the ampitheatre and so forth were all of clean wood and scene was all a little too well landscaped and lush. In some ways it was reminicent of a golf course.

Herrington Country Park and it’s neighbour the Penshaw Monument then both sum up Englishness totally, in a way more authentic buildings and landscapes don’t. The Park is something of worth and beauty which came about through the painful and difficult demise of something else, in this case the mining industry. The Penshaw monument is a piece of the past which has it’s own beauty but is of little use now beyond attracting visitors who want to take some time out of reality to visit a rather interesting bit of history. Englishness, a useful vibrant Englishness, has evolved as the culture and ethnic mix of this country has evolved. This has not always been an easy process. To get to this current state of Englishness things, perhaps worth preserving, have been lost. These things which have been lost have been those items of identity which have given worth to some who now benefit from what has emerged but still feel alienation and anomie as a result of their loss.

So it is that we witness scenes like those this weekend in Birmingham, which the BBC and others have reported upon. Looking at the coverage of this demonstration and the placards being held, aswell as listening to the chants being made, the picture emerging was one which worried me. The placards that the racist group were holding were specifically anti-Asian. One of them proclaimed “we are not racist, we are not the BNP, Black and White Unite”. The understanding of Englishness some of this group had really was slightly different one suspects to the BNP. This understanding of Englishness was one which included those from an afro-caribbean background, but sought to exclude those from an Asian background. In some ways this is a more worrying development in the political tactics used by the far right. They are seeking to appeal to wider numbers of people, including larger sections of the working class, to then scapegoat one particular ethnic group. One only needs to think back to the LA riots a few years back to see the effects of this tactic. When a white police officer beat Rodney King the victims of the riots, and the group the angry blacks turned their anger upon were the Koreans and Hispanics in their own neighbourhoods. In this way white racism was able to contain the anger within poorer neighbourhoods and set one ethnic minority against another.

Another interesting thing I noticed reading the placards shown in the report is that this group are seeking to use a campaign against the building of a mega-mosque to whip up this Islamiphobia. Yet, going back to my earlier point it would be interesting to see how many of these people with anti-Asian opinions view going to have a curry as a very “English” thing to do now. They are reaping some of the benefits of what “Englishness” truly means now without accepting the way it has evolved.

What worries me aswell is how the media have chosen to portray this demonstration. It was a racist, anti-Muslim demonstration based upon Islamaphobia. It was not just anti-fundamentalism, as some parts of the media were reporting. Part of the way racists work is by creating charactures and stereotypes based upon extremes which they then seek to apply to the whole of a particular population. In this case “Muslim bomber” was the stereotype they were seeking to use.

For a more indepth explanation of everything going on and the way the campaign against the Muslim community is unfortunately developing in this country Bartholowmew’s Notes on Religion seems like a good blog to read. The fact that the far right groups who link their violence with alligence to football are getting more media and politically savy is also worrying…a thug is always a thug however one trys to present it. Anybody who can remember the rise in racially motivated violence in the past should be worried by the way the situation in this country is developing again. Facism and racism, which are different but connected, tend to flourish when the economy is struggling. It is times like our current ones when people tend to feel most keenly the things which have been lost and fail to recognise the benefits and beauty of what Englishness has emerged into.

In addition to the blog mentioned earlier some other useful sites to look at to monitor how this situation is developing and actions anti-racists can get involved in see:
Searchlight, Unite Against Facism, UK Indy Media and for the folkies out there I note Folk Against Facism is forming. It appears the My Space site is more developed than the website at the moment.

Whilst there are several different versions of Pastor Niemoller’s quote I think it is appropriate to remember it and I will use this version posted on the Serendipity site. You may wish to consider the challange that many of us will be faced with by changing the word Catholic for Muslim and Protestant for Christian.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”