Thursday, January 17, 2008

Overcoming poverty of aspiration

I'm just back from the Mainstream Conference at Swanwick. I was hoping to blog while I was up there as I had great free internet access in my room (thanks Hayes conference centre) but I was too tired when I finally crashed out from catching up with mates!

It was a good conference overall. The highlight was Malcolm Duncan, the movement director of Faithworks. He is a truly brilliant communicator who is also a highly original and creative thinker - a rare combination, I find. He offered us an inspiring and achievable theology of social action and community transformation and challenged us to go do it - all in under an hour.

He has a new book out called Kingdom Come: the local church as a catalyst for social change. I've not read it yet but if it's half as good as his conference presentation, it will be a blast.

In the question and answer session on the final morning of the conference, he spoke in passing about poverty, drawing our attention to something he's written (that I'm looking for) on the five aspects of poverty. Three of these - which are spoken of a lot by sociologists of religion - are material, civic (ie being powerless and therefore disengaged) and spiritual (using the term in its broadest sense).

To this Malcolm added two - poverty of identity (so many people not having any idea of who they are and why they matter) and poverty of aspiration. This last one resonated particularly with me. It's about people having no hope, thinking the best days are behind them, hankering for the good old days. We hear it every time people talk about society going to the dogs and things being so much better when we were young.

It is this poverty that robs the church of its power and relevance because it suggests that Christian eschatology has nothing to give us that resources our present work for God. we pray 'thy Kingdom come' but expect everything to stay the same - and so it does.

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