Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Want to help Yemen? Leave the car at home...

I'm still looking for offers to host a Bill Mallonee gig. But I've also been thinking about Yemen and Thomas Friedman in between completing another chapter of the book.

There was a summit on Yemen in London today, featuring the foreign ministers of a number of interested states wringing their hands about what to do for this failing state.

Friedman knows what to do. Go green. His argument brilliantly links global weirding, petro-dictatorships and the war on terror. His argument is that our dependence on oil makes us dependent on the good will of those who sell us the oil and skews our foreign policy as a result.

Indeed he argues that every time we fill our tanks, we donate money to Al Quaida. So if we want to reduce the threat of militant islamism, we need to reduce our dependency on Middle Eastern oil and the only way we can do that is to 'go green', generate our electricity using renewable resources and innovate in the area electric vehicles. This does not just make climate sense. It's also the only sensible anti-terror policy.

Now, you need to read Friedman's argument because there's a ton of statistics and good sense that is missing from my stripped down version of it. And, of course, such a thing couldn't happen overnight. But it has to start or Yemen will just be the latest not the last failing state we have to hold a conference about.

Theologically I reckon his ability to link things that the media and our politicians generally don't link, is very important and suggestive. And is something we should be doing at church rather more than we're prone to.

With that in mind, St Arbuck's this coming Sunday is thinking about 'why vote?' the first of a number of gatherings this year that will have a political focus and feel. come along if you're passing Starbucks in the Market Square in Bromley at 2:30pm on Sunday.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let's get Bill Mallonee back in the UK

Being a long-time fan of Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love, I emailed him last week to see whether he had any plans to do some gigs in the UK (I get regular email updates from him detailing his US tour plans and asking if anyone wants him to gig in their town).

I didn't really expect to hear anything but almost by return I got a personal email from Bill saying he'd love to come but has no representation over here; did I think there was any interest in him?

So, here I am asking: who'd like Bill Mallonee in their church, community centre, cafe, living room? I am not a tour promoter but I'd love to see him perform back in the UK. I am going to get in touch with a couple of obvious events organisers.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mallonee, he was voted 65th in a poll of the top 100 songwriters of all time by Paste magazine and was a UK and US critics favourite through the 1990s. Like many really talented song writers, his music is not what the pop charts are full of, so over recent years he's struggled. But he's still writing and performing; and he's still quite brilliant. You can check out a story from Christianity Today here and his own website here.

So, just to repeat the question: is there anyone out there who'd like a Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love gig in their back yard, students union, church hall, pub, living room? Let me know

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Making music across the globe

Thanks to Geoff at Wonder and Wondering for this link (which is lovely) that led me to this link because that's what YouTube does! I think this is equally fab (though I should warm you that it does contain Bono and is presented by Starbucks).

It reminds me of the terrific work that Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto have done on their two 1 Giant Leap projects, bringing musicians together across continents to create some really interesting music.

I'll be listening to that today as I write.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

working in Limehouse's premier chilled space

I'm sitting in one of my favourite cafes in London - Departure in Limehouse - listening to Soulsavers' Broken, stunning new music that I discovered through Word Magazine, They're a British production and remix duo, Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who work a lot with singer Mark Lanegan. Wonderful downtempo, bluesy, gospelly electronica with rock overtones.

Departure is run by London City Mission and is one of the most intriguing new mission projects I've encountered. It's a great cafe and art space located squarely in the racially mixed community around Limehouse. It offers art classes, space for hire and a great chilled environment for meetings. So, I'll be here for the best part of the day meeting Urban Expression folk and doing some Baptist Assembly planning.

The other new music I've been listening to today is Laura Veirs truly lovely new album, July Flame. Something of a departure (see the link there...?!) for the US former geologist; a much more stripped down sound that showcases her voice and lyrical flair. And it's only a fiver this week from Amazon as a download. How's that for a new release?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

booze, young people and votes

Booze became an election issue today. Rival platforms focus on cutting binge drinking in pubs or alcohol promotions in supermarkets.

What is interesting and profoundly dispiriting is that in all the posturing no one is talking about why young people in particular drink the quantities of alcohol they do. Some in the medical profession talk about the need to change the culture of drinking in the UK. But their remedies are just to price young people out of the alcohol market.

As a Street Pastor I see the effects of over-consumption on a Friday night in a relatively sedate South London suburb. Lots of the people we meet are just a bit merry, having a good time; they're with their mates and everyone will get home happy. None seem to lack the resources to buy whatever their evening needs to go well.

But far too many of them, of both sexes, are hammered, tottering, slurring, giggling, shouting, whining, unable to decide where to go or what to do next. When we talk to them, they all tell us (with very few exceptions) what a good night they're having, despite the fact that tomorrow they'll remember none of it, but be left with a sore head and possibly a profound sense of regret at what they might have said or done. The few exceptions tend to ask why they do this - end up drunk sitting in the gutter, throwing up, falling out with their friends - most weeks.

Some, still articulate enough to engage us in real conversation, will tell us that the whole purpose of the evening is to have such a good time that they won't remember it tomorrow. For them the very definition of a good time is to get completely wasted. When did swathes of our young adults sink into such despair that the only entertainment for them is oblivion?

It seems to me that what we do to the price of alcohol - assuming we're not going to put it up to £50 a unit - is utterly irrelevant. What we have is a crisis of young adulthood and none of the posturing of politicians has so far come near to recognising that, let alone addressing it.

Leadership is about seeing what is happening, speaking the truth about it and bringing people together to put things right. I'd vote for that if it was on offer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Finding the key to the good life

'Give me abundant, clean, reliable and cheap electrons,' says Thomas Friedman, 'and I will give you a world that can continue to grow without triggering unmanageable climate change.'

In a very thorough and accessible survey of the energy options facing the planet, Friedman argues that electricity generation is the key to sustainable development. This means that governments as well as the private sector needs to be putting research funds into innovating in the area of electric transport and electricity generation from renewable resources.

But in a crucial section, he argues that the planet cannot just change its energy supply and carry on as it has before. Conservation must go hand-in-hand with changes in the consumption habits of the world, especially the rich world.

His thinking is influenced by political ethicist Michael Sandel who urges that we need to strengthen (perhaps in come cases develop) a sense of responsibility for and stewardship of the natural world.

The key thing for Friedman is that this cannot be legislated by governments. Arguing that as societies, we need to develop an ethic of conservation. 'Ethics are not laws. They are not imposed by the state. Rather, they are norms, values, belief, habits and attitudes that are embraced voluntarily - that we as a society impose on ourselves. Laws regulate behaviour from the outside in. Ethics regulate behaviour from the inside out. Ethics are something you carry with you wherever you go to guide whatever you do.' (p237)

The trouble is that our good ethics are so often let down by our bad behaviour. This is what Paul is talking about Romans 7 and Titus. We all agree on the basics on how people should live - in Paul's day it was that people embody the cardinal virtues of sobriety, justice and piety, virtues that would lead to the good life in a good society. The issue is where do we get the power to live such virtues?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Let's pray for Haiti

I'm not sure just how stupid you have to be to say that the Haiti earthquake is the result of one of the poorest nations in the world being cursed, but Pat Robertson's managed it. The death toll is the result of the wrath of God on a nation that's done a deal with the devil, he told the couch potatoes glued to his TV show.

And people in our churches wonder why our neighbours think the Christian faith has nothing credible to say to our world!

What's happened in Haiti is a ghastly catastrophe that should have us on our knees praying for those caught up in it and reaching into our pockets to support appeals for cash to bring aid to them.

Beyond that, I'm reminded of a scene in a film about an American evangelist (sorry, I can't remember what it's called) in which John Denver plays an angel who is sent by God with this message for the evangelist: 'God would like you to shut now because you're embarrassing him'.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Of the making of books (revisited)

Well, the good news is that my editor liked the first chapter very much.

And the even better news is that chapter 2 is written and the writing is flowing better than it has for quite sometime. I should get it finished by my revised deadline of mid-February.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Great ways to start Mondays

Jim Gordon's blog on Johnny Cash is worth reading. It reminded me how much I love his version of hurt. You can see it here in all its glory. Jim's right about how moving the end of the video is when Cash closes the piano lid and wistfully caresses it as if lamenting a profound loss.

There's no better way to start a Monday than listening to Andrew Marr (Start the Week has a cracking line up this morning) and Johnny Cash!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Boats that rescue in one way or another

I watched The Boat That Rocked last night. It's Richard Curtis' film about pirate radio and it's great fun - well acted, with some pretty wonderful music. It also, in passing, makes a bold claim for the importance of rock n' roll and the place of the pirates in ensuring we all got to hear it in the 1960s.

I am slightly too young to have had my love of pop and rock formed by the pirates, though I did listen to Luxembourg and Caroline. Curtis' film lovingly recreates the clash between the establishment and the pirates and reminds us just how different the world was in 1966.

Perhaps ministers-in-training should be watching it alongside reading Callum Brown's book on the church in that decade as well as other assessments of how significant the 1960s were in creating the world in which we now live.

And talking about significant boats in history, Friedman reminds us of one in his chapter on biodiversity. As he movingly tells the story of the last breeding pair of giant soft-shelled turtles, the language he uses, because no other language is good enough, is that of Noah and the flood. Indeed the whole chapter is littered with biblical allusions.

Take this as an example: 'we may be the first generation in human history that literally has to act like Noah - to save the last pairs of a wide range of species....Unlike Noah, though, we - our generation and our civilization - are responsible for the flood, and we have responsibility to build the ark...The beginning of wisdom is to understand that it is our challenge and our responsibility to act like Noah - to create arks, not floods.' (p181).

I wonder how many parties in the forthcoming election will be putting up posters of Noah leading the animals into the ark as they promise to get serious about climate change?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The warm glow of achievement


Chapter one of The World of the Early Church: A social history is written, a chapter on cities in the Roman empire. And I am quite pleased with it.

Hallelujah! Assuming my editor likes it, the other seven chapters should be a lot easier than that one. If she doesn't like it, I.......

Our calling

I came across this great quote about Karl Barth (I don't usually say that, not being a systematic theologian in any way shape or form) by Robert McAfee Brown: 'For Barth the tasks of exegete and preacher, scholar and proclaimer, teacher and witness, are all combined in one vocation'. (the quoue came courtesy of David Guretzki. Thanks for stopping by and introducing me to your blog. Lots of Barth to check out - I think I'll give it a go and see if I understand any of it!)

I think the quote is very pertinent to the last posting here and the comments it's attracted. Ministers need to see their vocation in these terms. it's not enough to speak, we also need to be scholarly in our engagement with every facet of the world around us

This doesn't mean that we'll be experts at everything. But it does mean that we'll seek to be well-informed, aware of the issues and thoughtful about how the gospel and our theological reflection inform our response to what's going on in and around us.

Global weirding

As I sit and watch people struggle past in the couple of centimetres of snow that have fallen over night, I'm reflecting on Thomas Friedman's description of climate change as 'global weirding'.

In a very good chapter on climate change, in particular the way the science is treated by those who are politically sceptical about the need to change our way of life, Friedman offers an excellent guide to what is happening, what the science is actually saying and how policy makers ought to be reacting to this.

one sentence jumped out and stopped me in my tracks. In a section detailing recent climate events, including hurricane Katrina, Friedman noted: 'Katrina wasn't so much an example of global warming as it was an example of the long-term infrastructure decisions society needs to make in order to survive. The weather is so much more than "do I need an umbrella?" It's also "should I buy a condo on the coast?" and "did we build those levees high enough?"'

These are profoundly theological questions that I'm not sure we're asking in our churches even if we've started asking them in our theological colleges.

For me, this whole issue raises questions about how we are training ministers for mission for today's world. Courses in ministry formation should engage with the likes of Friedman. But such engagement would mean that ministers-in-training need to be engaging with economics as much as Calvin, the principles of scientific enquiry as much as Karl Barth, public policy as much as pastoral theology.

But I'm not sure there's room in the curriculum. More pressingly, I'm not sure there's the will to make it. And the reason for this is that churches still want ministers who will fulfill the traditional roles of preaching and leading worship and reassuring our folk that God's on the case and all will be well in the end. Is it any wonder our churches are still emptying? And, in particular, that thinking people under 35 do not consider the Christian Faith has anything intelligent or effectual to say about the world or to the world as it teeters on the brink of the consequences of global weirding.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

writing and planning

Well I finished the leaders' prayer meeting because we'd been promised a foot of snow by 9pm and walked home under cloudless skies on a perfectly dry pavement. Ah well.

I managed half a chapter today, describing city life in Pompeii and Ostia. I should finish it tomorrow. That'll be one down, seven to go. So will meet my 31 January deadline? I reckon I might.

We pondered church planting this evening. Having launched messy church a year ago and seen it establish itself as a good monthly fixture, attracting about 50 regulars, it's time to leave the building.

So, this year's challenge is to consolidate St Arbuck's into a new congregation not just an adjunct of our morning service at Starbucks a couple of hours later. And to see if the allotment group will grow into a congregation or missional community of some kind. And then what?

Aren't new years exciting?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Dreaming simple dreams

Happy New Year, everyone. 2010 has started well for us, catching up with old friends, eating, drinking and making merry. Hope it's the same for all of you.

I thought I'd link my blog to my facebook page (just cause I can, really). It'll mean it ups my profile over there as it should automatically display anything new I post here.

We're thinking about hopes and dreams tomorrow in church and I wanted to keep it simple. So there'll be no unveiling of a great mission strategy born of a dream that our church building will be bursting at the seams; and no step-by-step guide to realising our hopes of being fitter, more beautiful and infinitely more spiritually alert.

Just the simple thought that I hope that this year I'll get to know Jesus better and that as a community of his followers, that's what we will all be hoping to achieve together. And in knowing Jesus and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of sufferings, becoming like him in his death so that we might somehow attain to the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:10), we might draw others into our adventure of faith.

It's a simple dream. It was Paul's. And it might just turn the neighbourhood upside down if it fires us as it fired him.

Happy New Year.