Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The best of British

I've just finished reading Billy Bragg's The Progressive Patriot. I've enjoyed it on a number of levels. The way he writes is much as he speaks, and it's been a joy to hear his voice as I've read his words.

The question the book is addressing is one of identity and meaning for progressive british society. In the wake of a rise in support for racist political parties and with much discomfort, misunderstanding and confusion of what it might mean to be a multicultural society, is there anything that people in progressive politics might want to cling on to or even celebrate in a distinctively british identity?

Bragg argues that a renewed discussion of britishness might be a uniting rather than dividing exercise, that it might rob the racists of a platform by revealing that to be british has always meant to be tolerant and open to other cultures.

He writes a persuasive book, I commend it to you.

It seemed to me, in reading it, to have something to say to those of us who are engaged in discovering fresh understandings of what it means to follow Jesus. Bragg advocates that british people tell the long story about ourselves, a story that includes a great history of integration, that is honest about not just the glories of empire, but the negatives too, a story that indicates a constant state of change, not some static population. I wonder if the most contemporary of emerging churches also need to retell the story from the beginning, to show how what we do, as connected as it is to our mediated, accelerated, po-mo world, is also connected to the roots and history of all who've borne the name of Christ?

There's a large part of me that wants to ignore 2,000 years of church history because it often feels like a weight, an albatross maybe, around the Church's neck. Maybe it's in retelling with honesty the story of our faith that we might find a new willingness from those seeking a tale to believe in, a path to follow.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Movies in Church

In the first three Cafe services of the new year we're continuing to use movies to explore spiritual themes.

Last weekend we pondered on Groundhog Day, the excellent Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an obnoxious weatherman, caught in a day that keeps repeating itself.

After his initial fear, frustration and depression at the never changing cycle of events, Phil first exploits the situation for his own ends, but then he is touched by the plight of an old gentleman who dies. Phil tries all he can to save the fellow, but to no avail, in doing so he learns about the needs of people in the town he's visiting, he then spends one of his days helping as many people as he can. It is this day that is the last one that he is trapped in, once again re-entering normal time and life.

Given the time constraints, and the fact that the majority of the audience hadn't seen it, we had to be selective in what we did. So we chose three scenes to help us think about making a new start.

We began by showing the first two waking up scenes, to illustrate that something strange is occurring, we got people to talk around their tables about the times they'd said "I can't believe this is happening again". Simon, my colleague, then taught a little about some of the Groundhog Day experiences that the apostle Peter had (three denials, three opportunities to reaffirm his love for Jesus, several sightings of a sheet spread with "unclean" food to teach him about inclusiveness).

We then used the clip where Phil robs a bank to think about a different kind of cyclical occurrence, and how good we were getting at being bad, and we remembered that God sees what is in our hearts, and that there is no place we can go to where we can hide from Him.

We then looked at two clips towards the end of the movie that showed the change that had taken place in Phil as he focussed on others rather than himself. I then spent a short time thinking aloud about what it might mean for God's love to be known as "new every morning" and asking what it is that God requires of us, that we act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Is it by serving others that we find meaning in the today, and freedom from our own hamster wheels?

In between this we used lot's of table discussion on the themes, encouraged people to text in ideas / questions / responses to what they were seeing, hearing and talking about, and we also used U2's Stuck in a Moment and Faithless' Nate's Tune to offer pauses for reflection and thought.

The feedback has been positive, especially from the people who came as family groups, bringing their children with them. We're now deciding on next month's theme, and what movie might help us explore that.

I'm enjoying using alternative stories to shed light on eternal truths. People's willingness to grapple with both movies and scriptures together is encouraging, and in seeing how the Bible speaks to the movie situations folks are discovering it speaking into their own experiences too. Several people spoke to us about how they felt God addressing issues in their lives in a very direct way as we spoke of repeating patterns of behaviour, the need for a fresh start, the love of Jesus that longs to bring peace and hope into our experience of being trapped or lost.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Laying down and picking up gauntlets

I have just got back from the Mainstream Leader's conference, and I'll write about that later, I have some comments from the weekend I wanted to share first.
On Sunday evening I met with a group of people in their twenties to pitch to them some ideas about new ways of doing church.
I was asking for their help. We spoke about the need for our church to find a group that could become very experimental and creative, and about the opportunity and freedom there was to think in novel ways about who we should be, what kind of things we ought to be doing, and the "how to" that we would engage in one we'd figured out values and vision.
Well, they said yes, and inwardly I breathed a deep hallelujah. The group is a creative one, fun to spend time with and ripe for a challenge. I was greatly relieved, as I hadn't identified a plan b if they'd have said no.
So where to from here? Well we agreed that we'd spend the next few months thinking and reflecting on the values that we ought to share, and those that we'd seek to express. To do this we're going to read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis, a book I can't commend highly enough. It's a challenging, inspiring and encouraging look at the kind of people and communities and values that contemporary Christians might want to aspire to. It doesn't present a model, there's no start up programme, just a challenge to allow God to widen our vision and understanding of his kingdom, his church, his world.
The group also immediately identified others who could be invited to share the journey with us, and decided on a helpful way of approaching them with an invitation.

I'm ridiculously excited. And i'm looking forward to seeing where God will take us.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

An Open Door

In God's first century letter to the Church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) an image of an open door is used. God says that he has seen the way that the people there had lived as those who genuinely believed the gospel message and had undergone persecution and hardship because of it. Because of this, he says, he is placing an open door in front of them. It's a passage we'd studied in church in autumn, and the image had been used a few times since.

Thinking about which image I could use to help us reflect on the coming year, I couldn't get the thought of the open door out of my head. I wonder how many doors had been closed because we'd stuck fast to Jesus and his teaching. I wonder what doors of opportunity God will open for us in the coming year. I see this image as a doorway of opportunity that flows both ways, I like that light is coming in from outside the door, it speak to me of us being open to the ways that God will speak to us, challenge and encourage us as we open ourselves more fully to others. It is an image that fills me with faith for the coming year, instead of fear. It reminds me that we are on a divine mission, that we journey with a God who goes before us and opens doors, and that fresh encounters are just around the corner, just outside the doors.

We followed reflection on the idea of the open door by reading together Psalm 16 in the Message translation.

Psalm 16

A David song.

Keep me safe, O God,
I've run for dear life to you.
I say to GOD, "Be my Lord!"
Without you, nothing makes sense.

And these God-chosen lives all around–
what splendid friends they make!

Don't just go shopping for a god.
Gods are not for sale.
I swear I'll never treat god-names
like brand-names.

My choice is you, GOD, first and only.
And now I find I'm your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!

The wise counsel GOD gives when I'm awake
is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I'll stick with GOD;
I've got a good thing going and I'm not letting go.

I'm happy from the inside out,
and from the outside in, I'm firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell–
that's not my destination!

Now you've got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.
(The Message)

Reflecting on 2006

On Sunday morning, I used this montage to help us reflect on the year that had past. I wanted to use well known faces (or people whose images might be less well known, but people would associate with the name) to help us think about the events and changes of the past year.

I thought of people who has passed away this last year - pictures of Coretta Scott King and Steve Irwin were included - to help us think about those who died in the natural course of life, and those who died suddenly.

I used images of UK politicians to reflect on changes in leadership in our nation's political parties, and to help us (although I didn't spell this out) to reflect on changes in our own church leadership team.

An image of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld was used to help us think about relationships that had broken down, professionally or personally.

Pictures of Saddam Hussein and President Ahmadinejad were included to help us think about situations that concern us.

Andrew Flintoff losing the Ashes helped us to reflect on broken dreams.

Changing faces in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (the top right corner is the new Gen Sec of the BU, Jonathan Edwards and the outgoing Gen Sec, David Coffey, the pic just inset from them is the current BU President, Kate Coleman) were used to reflect changes in our own congregation as we become a more diverse community.

I also used the very challenging image of Israeli children writing messages on bombs that were dropped on Lebanon, to help us reflect on the power and repercussions of our actions. Bono speaking at the Global Economic Forum was included as some progress, slow as it was, continued to be made in the fight against global poverty and AIDS ignorance.

I put in the Time magazine's cover as it had chosen as its person of the year "You", an empowered, media savvy, web-literate, wired society. Apparently we're the ones who make it all happen. When I reflect on the global situation, I really hope people far smarter than me are in charge.

We then read psalm 124 together, as a declaration of thankfulness and praise that we had survived 2006 with all its challenges. The feedback I received was very positive, with people appreciating having something to help them reflect on their own experiences of the last year.

Looking into 2007

So, it’s a new year, God bless us all.

As I look into this coming year, I’m challenged, as always, to consider that my goals are for the year. In terms of ministry, I want to see progress made on what I call “the three M’s of youth ministry”, Mentoring, Milestones and Mission.

With mentoring in mind, I’m heading off to the Mainstream Leaders’ Conference next week. I’m really looking forward to engaging with what Philadelphia, Sheffield have been doing with LifeShapes, a programme for peer to peer mentoring. In the light of this and drawing on other materials, I’ll be creating a mentoring programme for every member of our youth ministry , followed, in time I hope, by every member of the church who wants it.

I’m also keen to place some intentional milestones into the coming year. I want to plan for the things that our youth and young adults will look back on as significant moments of learning, encounter and community. We need to know not just that God loves the world, but also how it feels to be part of God’s expression of that love, by practical service, community building or meaningful worship expressions.

The context for all of this ought to be one of mission too. I’m not sure that we’ve really begun to grasp the implications of moving away from any idea that we live in a Christian society, and to change our thinking to the extent that we view the wider culture much as Peter, Paul, Priscilla, Aquilla and the early church did as they travelled, debated, conversed, loved, befriended, worked and prayed in order that God’s kingdom might be established, strengthened and extended.

I want to move our youth and young adults away from the idea that we’re about perpetuating the local church, and into a deeper understanding that we’re about kingdom building, because we live in a screwed up world, a world that is changed not by becoming nice and joining us on Sunday, but by having a revelation of the love, grace and power of Jesus.

So Mentoring, Milestones and Mission, ought to be an interesting year I think.

God bless you as you hear him call you into 2007 with a passion and purpose.