Thursday, December 28, 2006

To All New Arrivals

I’m listening to Faithless’ latest album “To all new arrivals”. It’s been slated by many critics, and I can understand why. It’s a very different kind of album. It’s not a pumping trance-dance hard-hitting lyric one like the one we might have expected. It’s more of a chillout album, perhaps reflecting the mood induced by the album’s theme, the arrival of new children in a household. As a fairly new parent, it’s the kind of album I need to listen to after a hard day. What it lacks is a single amazing track, there’s no We become 1, God is a DJ, Insomnia or Mass Destruction here. What there is a loving, intelligent, playful and occasionally inspiring album reflecting on the kind of world children are being born into, pondering both the breathtaking beauty of a new baby, and a mind-numbing sickness in the world. I think this album has the lowest profile of Maxi Jazz that I’ve heard on a Faithless CD, and this weakens the whole. The guest singers (including Dido, predictably and adding little, and Cat Power who adds amazing depth to “A Kind of Peace”) are there, and they’re kind of interesting interesting, but it is the raw power and urgency that Maxi expresses that would have lifted this album to greatness.

I’ll have a few more listens over the next couple of days and see if I reappraise it – maybe it’s a grower.

I’m currently reading Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman. It’s written from a North American perspective, but has something to say to the church scene here in the UK. Essentially it is an exploration of how churches might understand that they are in a mission context, in order to find culturally relevant and meaningful ways of building church. I’m enjoying it and it’s giving me lots to think about.

In church this coming Sunday I’ll be leading the service. We’ll spend some time prayerfully reflecting on the year past, and looking at the year to come. I’ve found Psalm 124 to be helpful in my own reviewing of the year, and we’ll be using that and Psalm 16 (in the Message translation) as a way of expressing our hope for the future.

Our leadership team will be discussing issues around membership this coming week. For some background to this you might want to look at my colleague’s blog

Like many churches we struggle to find a relevant way for people to express their commitment to the local church, and to find a way of meeting legal requirements for us to have a formalised membership. Some would be in favour of scrapping membership altogether, and moving towards a yearly covenant that people make together. Others would like to strengthen the role and place of membership, and to call people to the kind of membership structures that the church has had in the past.

I’m sure there’s some creative solution that has yet to be found, I hate being asked to choose from only two options, so I’ll let you know how things pan out.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ten Weeks

It was at the end of July that I blogged about the impending move, I kinda figured it was time to write more, and to try and create a platform for more regular postings.

We've been here ten weeks now, and it seems strange that it's been so long, it really feels like in many ways we're still trying to get to know the place.

Starting with important things, as a family we're doing OK but it has taken a while to adjust to the move. I guess we'd expected that a move would take us further north, to be closer to family, and so we're still getting used to being further south. Our son is doing really well, despite a few recent bugs. His confidence and joy are still apparent. He's loving living close to a railway line where he gets to see the Eurostar fairly frequently.

Our welcome here was suitable otherworldy. As we had breakfast on the first morning my wife looked out of the window and was amazed to see what we thought were green parrots (we were later informed they are a flock of parakeets), in the trees outside. We really have come south.

As for ministry, well, it's been interesting. I've been mainly getting to know the situation here, as well as taking part in a few special services. Of particular interest perhaps have been the last three Sunday evenings where Simon and I have used movies to explore three key advent themes; we used Signs to explore Faith, Chocolat as a way of looking at Grace and then this week The Shawshank Redemption was used as a way into the topic of Hope.

It would be fair to say that these evenings have had a mixed response. Some of the older members have struggled with the change of format. It's been surprising to learn how rigidly some people expect Sunday times together to be. As we hadn't announced scripture references, or invited people to turn to their Bibles one week, some folks seemed unable to perceive that scripture was used at all. These comments came from people who'd been in church most of their lives, and they seemed unable to spot biblical material unless it was flagged up in a number of ways, it was quite worrying.

On the whole though, the reception has been very warm to a different way of exploring and reflecting on issues. People who have friends who might be thinking about the spiritual journey in a more focussed way were excited that there was something in the church programme they felt they could invite people to.

On to media, i found a great music website that is worth exploring. I've been listening a lot to "No Roots" by Faithless as a warm up to purchasing their latest album sometime soon.

I'm reading Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and finding it very stimulating, I'm also ploughing through Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger. It's a good analysis of the movement, and has been helpful in shaping my own thinking in key areas, more of that another day I think.

For news I'm picking up the Independent these days, their coverage of key topics has been brave. They seem to have fewer qualms about asking searching questions, and they tend to deal with spiritual subjects more even-handedly and intelligently.

The last movie i saw was Casino Royale, and I think that this does for the Bond franchise Baatman Begins did for that one.

I pray your Christmas will be one where light shines in the darkness, as shocking and comforting as that might be.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Taking the Red Pill

I love the Matrix movies, yes all three of them. The first was so strong, with a stunning central idea that was mindblowing in its simplicity and consequence. the other two were less powerful, but nonetheles thought-provoking and engaging. I often find myself using scenes from the films as metaphors, and here I am, starting a blog with one.

Neo's choices were to either take the blue pill and go back to living like he had before, ignorant of the truth and unaware of the alternative reality on offer, or to take the red pill, and to go on a journey, the final destination of which is unsure, but will involve enlightenment, a new reality and a sense of mission and purpose.

I hope it's not melodramatic to suggest that i feel a little like Neo.

I'm Jon, Jonathan, Rev, Pastor. Associate Minister at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northampton. It's a good solid Baptist Church, and my time here has been fruitful and the church has (I hope) been blessed by the emphasis that I have brought, this has been particularly seen in the whole area of community devlopment and development of youth ministries.

In autumn last year (2005) my senior colleague and I began discussing how we could help the church through a period of transition. He's due to retire in spring 2008, and we wondered whether the right thing would be for me to stay and help the church as it found a new senior pastor, or whether i should prayerfully consider if God was leading me elsewhere, giving the church time to replace me and have a period of stability before another change.

I had originally come to this church to help them in the areas of evangelism and community development, but during my 5.5 yrs have become a generalist, taking a part in the full life of the church. I guess that I was probably looking for a church where i might spead my wings a little, perhaps be sole pastor, or a senior in a similar church to the one i'd be leaving.

But then, God sometimes has other ideas. One of the things I had been seeking in a church to work with was an openness to explore new forms of church, I wanted to find a place where it was OK to ask the question "If we didn't have 2,000 years of church history (although i praise God that we do), and all we had was this message about Jeus, in this contemporary culture, what would we do? would we do church, and if we did, what might it look like?" I also wondered if there was a way of raising a generation of believers who had in their very dna, as it were, the truth that change is always wih us. Is there a way of doing church, however that might look, that doesn't need traumatic, seismic changes every 15-20 years that threaten to bring the division and heartache that have become commonplace in the church?

An acquaintance of mine, senior minister at Bromley Baptist Church, has been asking similar questions, and the church he works for was beginning to consider who they might appoint to work with their young people and young adults. Upon hearing that I might be open to a move, he suggsted we have a conversation.

The result of all this (and thanks for bearing with the waffle thus far) is that God has called, and as a family we're uprooting, with all the attendant trauma, and moving south. I'm taking the red pill. I've decided that the ride will be worth it. Who, other than God, knows where this will lead? I'm certain that the next few years will see a lot of experimentation, and hopefully a lot of inspiration as the creative imagination is engaged with concrete experience. If you read this and you pray, then please pray for us. It will be hard for my wife, who will see change in almost every area as she and our son follow what together we believe to be God's call. We'd both thought that a move north, closer to family, would happen, this is the wrong direction in some ways! Pray for my son, that the change will be smooth for him, and that his wonderful, open, enquiring mind wouldn't be hurt. Pray for the churches involved, that as we leave one, and as we join another, that all together we'd know peace.