Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Good reading and listening

Picked up a digitally remastered copy of Jethro Tull's Benefit yesterday. Among the bonus tracks is Witch's Promise, the first Tull track I heard on Top of the Pops back in 1970-ish. It all still sounds surprisingly fresh, Ian Anderson's crisp diction and Martin Barre's rampant guitar making a very English sound.

I also acquired the remastered My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne, one of the first albums to use samples - cut ups, I think they were called back in 1980/81. This too has weathered well. The guy at Virgin selling it to me wasn't born when it first came out and marveled that it had been re-released!

I have also discovered Gareth Davis-Jones, a Christian singer-songwriter from the English North East. He has an album out and another being launched at the Baptist Assembly in Late April. He's one of the musicians we've got lined up for Prism, the alternative strand of the Assembly. I'm looking forward to hearing him in the flesh. Meanwhile you can check him out at

Having spent more time than is healthy on trains over the past couple of weeks I've also been doing some reading. Tom Wright's new one Evil and the Justice of God (SPCK £12.99), apart from being a tad overpriced is another example of first rate scholarship and spot-on apologetics. I'm also part-way through his Simply Christian - equally good.

I've just started Moazzam Begg's autobiography Enemy Combatant which is sobering stuff.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Freedom - much talked of, little enjoyed?

We rejoice with Norman Kember and his family that he's free and home. It is great news for him and James Loney and Harmeet singh Sooden. It's important that we don't forget Tom Fox and his family in our celebrations.

Many are puzzled by Norman's actions - the UK press reaction has been bewildering - but as the wonderful Bob Gardiner, his pastor, said at the weekend the gospel makes us all fools in the eyes of the world.

We are also concerned at the plight of Abdul Rahman, facing the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity 16 years ago. He is one of hundreds if not thousands of Christians around the world at risk of losing their life simply because of their faith.

It's good to see that the press and governments around the world are up in arms about this. Let's pray that he's released unmolested. Sadly there are too many confirmed stories of converts from that part of the world who have been released by the courts only to be murdered by mobs on the courthouse steps.

Maybe we should expect the world to hate us - Jesus told us it would - and that its hatred in some places will result in death for members of our family. It shouldn't stop us calling for countries who are members of the United Nations to live up to their commitments - in particular the commitment to religious freedom and tolerance.

This commitment means not only that Christians shouldn't be on trial for their faith but that governments should be educating their populations in the principles of tolerance and acceptance of difference. One of the key marks of a free society - as our baptist forbears were the first to say (I think) - is freedom to choose which religion, if any, to follow.

Of course, such tolerance is a matter of grace. And maybe you need the Spirit to live in such a way.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Passing on the faith

Life is really hectic so I'm sorry for not blogging for a while.

I've been pondering how we pass the faith on to the rising generation. I love the new Cadbury's TV ad where a boy gives a girl a couple of chunks of his chocolate bar, marries her, has a son who is seen in the last frame giving a chunk of chocolate to the girl he fancies. It strikes me as being a wonderful picture of what the author of Deuteronomy might have been trying to convey.

Deuteronomy 6 - which we use in dedication services - talks of families speaking about God's Law when they sit down and when they go out. It's a picture of mums and dads passing their faith on to their kids.

As we were reflecting on mother's day this morning at church, we talked about the relationship between family, church and the children's and youth programme in raising adult believers. Gone are the days when Christians are bringing their children up in a sympathetic environment.

David Smith puts it like this 'Adjusting to this new context [exile, the marginalisation of the church in western culture] is incredibly difficult since the mindset of most Western Christians has been formed by centuries of tradition which has conditioned them to expect the surrounding world to constitute a friendly and hospitable environment for their beliefs and values.' Lots of us still live as if this weren't so. We especially think that old ways of doing Sunday School and youth work still apply, are still good enough. [By the way if you've not come across David Smith, check out his stuff, especially Mission After Christendom (DLT, 2003) - excellent.]

David Voas - whom I've talked about before - sums it up well: the church has a half life of a generation, two church going parents have a 50:50 chance of passing their faith on to their children.

This means we face a challenge. One of the most stimulating thinkers in this area is Pete Ward. His book Growing up Evangelical: Youthwork and the making of a subculture is a revelation. He basically argues that over the past couple of generations, youthwork has aimed to create safe havens, bubbles that protect our kids from the world beyond the church. As a result they have failed to convert a childlike faith in Jesus into an adult discipleship.

This is a real problem for the church. If even church goers only have a 50:50 chance of passing their faith on to their kids, we need to think very seriously about how we as churches support parents in discipling our kids. We need to give our children and young people the tools to navigate their way as Christians in the choppy and turbulent waters of school, friendships, university and jobs.

Any ideas?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Who we are (yet again)

Started Street Pastor training last Saturday - excellent. Today I wrote a piece for my church magazine. These are linked by a thought about Good Friday (stay with me...)

Les Isaacs, the founder of Street Pastors, suggested that people outside the church know lots of things that we're against, but very little of what we're for. Earlier today I was musing on how we celebrate Good Friday. A little while ago I was in the middle of a rant by a group of Christians about how outrageous it is that the shops are open on Good Friday.

Now I think it might be a generational thing, but I'm not sure I can't hot under the collar about shop opening hours. Sometimes I need to shop at midnight and am grateful for the corner shops and supermarkets open at that time. Sometimes I need things on a Sunday. I even admit to having gone shopping on Good Friday (in fact I have done so the last three years at Spring Harvest - the UK's premier Christian conference!)

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Paul urged his readers in Rome to live their lives in the ordinary daily round in an extraordinary way because they were indwelt by the Spirit of God.

There was no acknowledgement of Good Friday in First Century Rome. And Paul didn't seem to be lobbying for one. Rather he was lobbying for a people whose lives were shaped by the cross to be living in the midst of working, shopping and playing Romans and allowing the shadow of the cross to fall over their lives.

Is there a lesson in this for us? I think so.

Keeping the balls aloft

Life's been a bit manic (again) hence the gap between posts.

Have been listening to the Arctic Monkeys (excellent) and Sarah McLachlan (equally excellent), but the stand out music of the last fortnight has been Eels live album called Live at Town Hall. It's a great collection of songs - heavily weighted to the wonderful Blinking Lights album - played by E and string section, pump organ and guitar. It shows off his song writing skills and especially his ability to deliver a lyric.

In between I've been working. I finished my Galatians manuscript and sent it off to the publisher - I await the blue pencil response! We're more than halfway through a series on basic Christian beliefs which is proving quite interesting. Last night it was the cross and I'm not sure it went as well as I'd hoped - it's such a vast subject I felt like I was drowning in it at times.

I've been counting the number of balls I have to keep up in the air. My admin assistant (what a luxury it is to have one!) has produced me an action plan of my roles - in the church and beyond. It runs to some 15 separate items (many of which are multi-faceted).

Looking at it I wonder - does church have to be this complicated?