Monday, January 26, 2009

DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal

Here's ITN's Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on behalf of the people of Gaza.
The debate over the BBC's decision not to screen an appeal still rages, and indicates that people are divided over the issue. Whatever your feelings about this, I'd want to encourage you to give, all monies are channelled directly through the 13 aid agencies: ActionAid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision. These agencies buy what is needed and distribute it, many of them are already in operation in Gaza, have been there many years, and know the local situation intimately.


Next month sees the start of MovieChurch @ Tab.
A few people have asked about the thinking behind this, so here's some of my reasoning. It's brief, and owes something to the thoughts of Steve Taylor at emergentkiwi.

I begin with scripture, it seems a good place for a Jesus-follower to start! Reading the gospels Jesus is revealed as seeking to draw people into the Kingdom of God, identifying his role as to seek and save the lost, and giving his followers instructions to do the same. In Acts we see how the disciples carried this mission on, the growth of the faith community, and the expansion of the church beyond the realm of Jewish sect to faith for people of any people group / culture.

By the time we get to Acts 17 Paul has been on missionary travels, calling people to follow Jesus, inviting them to become part of the kingdom. The second part of Acts 17 sees Paul in Athens, where he uses elements of the Athenian culture as a springboard for talking about faith, indeed he quotes from their own poets as something that contains God-truths.

Part of what Paul was doing was revealing Christ from within their own cultural framework. I wonder what parts of our culture might be used to reveal Jesus, what might illuminate, explain, or provide a springboard to begin discussing our faith?

And so I turn to movies. I think movies are the stories that our culture tells about itself. I also think that movies involve and move the viewer in ways other artforms don't. As the USA has a kind of cultural Christianity at its heart, it's not surprising that spiritual themes appear in films so often, and even when they are not overtly spiritual there are still themes of redemption, forgiveness, grace, hope, salvation and love regularly present.

Churches and Christians have often ignored or misunderstood films, seeing them as moving wallpaper, or having little merit other than as a form of escapism. More and more recently practical theologians and pastors have been discovering the usefulness of movies, not merely as a way of illustrating a sermon point (and showing off our great technology), but as a way of exploring faith themes, and even as a way of engaging in mission activity.

So, with this in mind, we're starting MovieChurch. It'll happen on the last Sunday each month, when we'll watch a whole movie together, break for refreshments then facilitate a discussion on the film's themes and ideas.

My hopes for this include a desire that our congregation gets used to “reading” and talking about films, so that they become more equipped to respond to topical films, as well as beginning to use films as a means of faith-sharing themselves (inviting a friend to go to the cinema then talking about it afterwards) as well as using movies as a way of exploring their own faith. I also hope that by using films instead of a sermon we might find ourselves discussing themes that might otherwise be ignored. It will also create an opportunity within the life of the church that people might feel more able to invite friends. It could be accessed like a book club, only with a film.
So, watch here for updates, I'll be blogging after each one, and looking for feedback from participants to be included here too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Church, Gaza, and all that jazz

Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of my son. It fell on Sunday, a day when Daddy is tied up, so we had a day out on Saturday before having a special lunch with friends on Sunday.

As he's interested in trains and all things that move, we took him on the tram from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, and then went to the National Sealife Centre.

When we left the aquarium, we walked back to the tram station via the International Conference Centre and were delighted by one of life's serendipitous moments. A band was playing a free Jazz concert in one of the bar areas, so we made our way to the back of the audience and caught a little glimpse of something wonderful. Here was a group of people, of mixed ages and ethnicities, playing together a blend of the most wonderful sounds. As we watched and listened I realised that the band were being led by the two elderly gentlemen in the middle of the room, both with large saxophones (I later discovered that the band were Andy Hamilton and the Blue Notes, and that the saxophones were probably tenor or baritones).

They were getting towards the end of a set, and as they played we noticed that one by one they were all playing a kind of solo, amidst the other instruments. I first noticed that the pianist was doodling away as the others played gently and smiled at him, then the older saxophonist pointed his horn to the younger man on the bongo drums, and the other instruments became quieter as he played a solo that sounded like ten people playing at once, then the other drummer came in, and played, then the guitarist took over, then the bass player then the two saxophones together. It was wonderful, young and old player, deferring to each other, giving each other space to express themselves, yet the whole thing being held together by a shared melody, rhythm and joy in what they were doing.

As a spectator, it was mesmerising, and more than that, made me want to join in. It looked like fun, it looked so positive, and joyful. But alas, I don't play an instrument, yet.

Of course, it made me think of church. I wondered whether it was possible to create a way of doing church that saw each person allowing each other to express their own sound, and also finding the courage to take a breath and summon the courage to make their own contribution, a place where people of diversity could be so united in playing a tune, where whichever spectators there were found themselves longing to be a part.

And then we walked on, and almost immediately found ourselves walking into Victoria Square, met by a rank of police officers and 150-200 angry people protesting about the situation in Gaza. Just as we arrived there was a rush as the crowd surged towards the police line. We found a quick way out of danger and headed for the tram station. As we walked I was just saying to myself “oh well, back to the real world with a bump!” when I realised that what we had experienced in the ICC was just as real, just as possible, just as true as the anger of the protest, as the feeling of fear, frustration and of powerless that those people felt and expressed as they looked at the absence of harmony, the hatred between ethnic groups, and the lack of a uniting tune.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians uses a powerful image of the cross smashing down the walls that divide people groups. I wonder how its power is made manifest in our day?