Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Talking pants for justice

Today I thought I'd talk pants. Many of you probably think I talk pants most days but we'll let that pass.

I cam across a wonderful new-ish company this morning as I was trawling the Guardian website. This story alerted me to whomadeyourpants? a Southampton worker co-operative that utilises the skills of refugees and migrants in the manufacture of ethical underwear.

This is a fantastic project at so many levels...

In a world where most garment workers are still earning less than $2 a day (even in those workshops where companies are putting pressure to raise standards; see this report from the War on Want website), here's a company offering good quality jobs to people, paying reasonable wages.

In a world where fashion houses and high street stores are urging us to buy ever cheaper, almost disposable clothes of dubious provenance, here's a company making quality garments of good design quality that founder Becky Johns says you can wash and wash and wash without them falling apart.

In a world where people throw up their hands in the face of injustice and inequality, here's a company founded by a woman who said I can do something to make a difference. You can read about this initiative in an inspiring Guardian story here and check out the company's website here and Becky's blog here

And soon the company plans to offer ranges for men - we have ethical underwear needs too! So, if you're buying pants, ceheck out this site.

It's great to come across initiatives like this one; it lifts the spirits on a morning when the news from Afghanistan and Westminster is depressing to come across someone making a real and positive difference to the lives of the poorest and most marginalised in our society.

It inspires me to think what can we might be able to do here with the refugee projects that we have connection with.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reading Romans in community

Off to lead a bible study on Romans, slightly fearful of dishing up yet more gobbets of information for people to process.

I'm hoping to avoid this by earthing the text in the real lives of its original hearers (with the help of Peter Oakes' excellent new book Reading Romans in Pompeii) and thence in our lives. I'm also hoping that the learning will be mutual, with everyone there sharing their insights.

First, I have to get over the hurdle of everyone thinking that Romans is only and all about how God puts individuals right with himself. But mine are an intelligent bunch, so this shouldn't be too difficult.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Over-fed over there - and over here, too?

There's a good blog on suburban church stuff emanating for the US but featuring some thought-provoking posts, including this one about teaching becoming something of an idol.

Author, Michael Wallenmeyer, offers some pretty sharp observations. So, it's worth checking out.

The subject came up again last night. One of my leaders and I had a conversation about what we do with sermons. At the end of the day when I delivered two sermons that he'd found really helpful, he was concerned about how we follow this stuff up and ensure that it's not only earthed in people's lives but actually changes the way they live them (albeit incrementally).

I still can't escape the feeling that I'm a Sunday morning and evening entertainer for people with a penchant for the Bible. Wallenmeyer seems to feel the same in his context.

On Tuesday this week I'm beginning a Bible study series on Romans. This is great. There seems to be a real desire for people to study scripture and I am keen to meet that desire and help people engage with it, delving into the context of these fabulous texts, getting an overview of the message and, most importantly, helping people apply it to their daily lives.

This is all good. but I'm still fearful that we engage in information overload in our churches. We offer chunky gobbets of stuff each week and yet very little opportunity for people to work out what to do with it. It's like inviting people to visit a gourmet restaurant every day, making them eat a substantial slab of the menu and not give them the opportunity to exercise before we do it again.

The thing is that this isn't making disciples. It's making people who consume church stuff, judging what they get each week against the standards of the best teaching they've heard both in our church and elsewhere, opting in and out of programmes on the basis of whether they like the sound of it.

As Wallenmeyer points out, we're doing church better than we've ever done before in terms of the offer we're making - nice environment, lively music, great child-care, good coffee - and yet we're shrinking as a movement.

There's lots to think about here....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Booking the great getaway

Today I booked our proper summer holiday - two weeks in September in South-west France. We've found a fabulous looking small house called L'Ancienne Pharmacie in a small bastide town called Mirepoix in the Ariege department of the Midi-Pyrenees. It's the first time we've gone for a property in a village rather than in a converted farm complex. So it should be an adventure!

Outside the school holidays it will be quiet. The property is near a cafe in a covered colonnade and has a roof garden where we'll be able to sit and read and sip chilled Chablis and other beautifully textured grape-based beverages.

And we go in six weeks - yay!!!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer news and soothing sounds

Pity the poor people of Guildford. Not only do they have to live in Guildford but they are struggling to understand the ticket machines found at railway stations. And people suggest that educational standards are rising...

This was not the only slightly surreal report on this morning's breakfast show on the beeb. Just after 8am they interviewed a 15 year old festival goer (she'd been at Gilfest in Guildford over the past weekend - I see a theme emerging) about how to stay safe at festivals.

She seemed very sensible and gave good answers to the questions she was asked. But no one asked why a 15 year old was at a weekend festival with a group of friends but no adult to offer light-touch supervision and help keep them safe.

The festival story was based on the fact that there have been five incidents at festivals over this summer so far involving potential harm to women festival goers. It didn't seem much basis for a panic given the numbers attending these events - though it is almost the silly season.

Today, I'm expecting a delivery of wood to build a screen behind our newly laid decking to complete our sitting area and will be reflecting on 2 Corinthians 12:10 - possibly the climax of this complex and compelling letter. As I do this I'll be listening to some free music - new songs from Sarah Masen (via an excellent music called noisetrade) and two whole albums from an American band called Evils that Never Came, gentle indie rock with great hooks and interesting lyrics. I don't anything else about them as their website gives almost information about them but I'm always grateful for free music (click here)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More thoughts on work

The trouble with being away, is there's so much to do when you get back. We had a great time, however - I can still smell the salt on my finger tips (though that might be from the fish and chips I had in Ramsgate yesterday!)

I've been reflecting on work and Ecclesiastes ahead of preaching on Sunday. And part of that reflection has been watching Alexander Payne's wonderful film About Schmidt. Starring Jack Nicholson, an actor who seems to get better and better as he matures (like a good cheddar, really), the film is a black comedy about retirement and loss and whether life amounts to a hill of beans. It's very funny and extremely sharp.

I shall be using a scene near the beginning of the scene where Warren Schmidt visits the young high flier who's replaced him as assistant VP at his insurance company to see if needs any help getting to grips with all Schmidt's left him. He says no, that he's on top of everything but that he'll ring if needs anything. As he leaves the building, Schmidt sees all the files he'd carefully arranged for his successor, stacked in a garage awaiting disposal; his entire working life consigned to the garbage. It's fabulously observed.

As Qohelet says: 'Oh yes, I know what they say: "if you obey God everything will be alright, but it will not go well for the wicked...But this is nonsense. Look at what happens in the world' (8:12-14 GNB). And 'what do workers gain from their toil (3:9 TNIV).

I have been listening to the new album from Cherry Ghost. Beneath This Burning Shoreline is a huge step up from Thirst for Romance. The first album was the product of a singer-songwriter; this work is the product of a band who sound as if they've been hardened by touring. Simon Aldred's writing remains as sharp as ever and his voice is a soulful delight.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The hard work of having a blast

Today's been hard work.

This morning I was trying to master the art of lying on a surf board and paddling it in such a way as to catch a wave. As someone who's body-boarded a lot over the past twenty years or more, I thought this would be easier than it turned out to be.

For a start, instead of using your legs for propulsion - as you do when body boarding - you have to use your arms because your body is prone on the board with your legs up in the air out of the water. Then there's the problem that a little shift in your centre of gravity on the board tends to tip you off it in a somewhat embarrassing way.

There was a point when my brain was yelling at my body 'you don't have to do this; you're on holiday.' Bu it was wrong. I did have to do it because I had chosen earlier in the day that today would be the day when I started to see whether I could ever get the hang of a long board. And it's hard work. But, of course, nothing worthwhile ever comes without effort and toil.

I reckon that if I did what I did this morning for an hour every day, I'd get the hang of lying on a surf board and paddling it into position in about six months! So onward and upward...

This afternoon we were chilling at Graham's studio (art rather than music) and I was trying to finish a song that I started about 15 years ago. It's gone through many drafts but I've never been happy with it. The tune's great - a sort of early Elvis Costello-influenced durm und strang. I've always loved it but never thought I'd sing it because of the words.

Following a lunchtime chat about the process of creating in which Graham reminded me that it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, I set about reworking the lyric. Writing, crossing out, testing combinations of sounds and words, finding the rhythm and metre of the language, even sometimes counting syllables and seeing if, within the lyric, they actually communicated something.

It was hard work. At times it was like pulling teeth; at other times it was like being just below the crest of a hill, knowing that a great view was about to hove into view but discovering that there is still a lot more walking and climbing to do before you get there. It's like having a word circulating in your brain, coming and toying with the tip of your tongue and then running off into a dark corner and disappearing without trace.

Eventually, however, I got there. The new lyric says something very different from the old one, I think; and it says it better. Indeed as I ponder it, I wonder what it is saying - which is good because slightly elusive and elliptical is what I was searching for. I'll need to give it a few days to simmer and I'll need to try it out a time or two before I know whether it's finished.

We tend to think of holidays as a break from work. But perhaps they are about work of a different kind; the work of enjoying and expressing ourselves, good work that leaves one feeling knackered but strangely satisfied.

I'll have to try it all again tomorrow - especially the surfing - to see if I'm right.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What does the worker gain from his toil?

Yesterday my friend Janice suggested that we both blog about work. And since in a couple of weeks I'll be preaching, as part of our Ecclesiastes series on work (the heading is Ecclesiastes 3:9), I definitely warmed to the idea. So here's part one of who knows how many...

A few minutes ago I was looking at the side profile of my daughter's laptop. It's sleek, the width of the CD tray, matt black and stylish. It's sitting on the coffee table in our lounge next to my wife's laptop. I'm typing this on my netbook, sitting on the step of the French doors, occasionally looking up at what happening in the garden.

The ubiquity of portable work machines, constantly and effortlessly linked to the web (or should I say, integrated into the cloud?) is something we take for granted. We go to them without thinking to we check our email, update our facebook status, comment on our favourite blogs; we take them with us when we leave the house, not just laptops and netbooks but smart phones and games machines as well.

When I began work as a journalist - one of those professions most transformed by this technology - I used a manual typewriter and my copy was marked up by hand before being biked to a printer for typesetting. It was 1979. We were on the verge - not that we knew it - of a revolution that would touch every aspect of our lives.

When I began work as a minister, I wrote sermons by hand, I used books for research and drew overhead transparency slides using pens and templates. It was 1989. Yes, I had an Amstrad but it was not flexible or clever enough for weekly sermon prep or congregational record keeping.

When I began work this morning, I switched my laptop on at 6:15am, checked emails, what was happening on facebook and in the blogs and checked my diary (part of outlook) to clock the meetings that lay ahead of me today. I opened the documents on 2 Corinthians that I am currently working on - study notes (prepared in MS Publisher), sermon notes (in MS Word) - then went to the library (the University of Wales library, journals section, of which I am a remote user) and down-loaded a paper by a Greek Orthodox theologian from the St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly on Paul's collection for the saints. I was then ready for my breakfast meeting.

Looking at my daughter's laptop, something I see everyday (and pay very little attention to) I realise that boxes like it, now shape my life in ways I couldn't have predicted when I started work in 1979. The question is: 'is all this technology just a way of doing the same job better or has it changed the nature of our work altogether?'

Watch this space?