Friday, September 27, 2013

Networks of outrage and hope

Well, it seems it might already be kicking off where we are in a small way!

Just back from coffee with a friend and fellow minister during which he told me that last night our churches together group had a discussion about how to engage more boldly with the council. People spoke of wanting to be a prophetic voice in local government, others of wanting to engage in prophetic actions that demonstrate the life of the Kingdom of God.

This was music to my ears. Though I'm not sure what 'prophetic actions' might look like(!), I am sure that there is a ground swell across the town among Christians and others of good will that something is desperately wrong and that anger is only leading to people feeling frustrated and impotent.

So, we've agreed to use a meeting that I was already due to be facilitating on churches and political engagement in a couple of weeks, to put some flesh on this.

Meanwhile, I picked up Manuel Castells' Networks of Outrage and Hope yesterday, on the recommendation of Paul Mason and because it has such a good title! What better description of church is there than networks of outrage and hope?! Hopefully Castells' book, which casts a seasoned sociologist's eye over the social movements that have sprung up over the last decade, will inspire and inform not only my thinking but also our churches' conversation.

Is it kicking off where we are?

The other book I read as I lazed by the canal in Le Somail was Paul's Mason's Why it's till Kicking off Everywhere: the new global revolutions. The former Newsnight economics editor who is now with Channel 4 News tours the world's places of unrest - from the Arab Spring to Occupy - exploring common features (especially the use of social media to spread ideas.

It's a great read full of stories from the front-line of protest and agitation for social change. Mason identifies common threads in all the movements that have erupted since the global crash. And while the second edition has been overtaken by events in Egypt - one wonders whether a democratic spring has given way to an authoritarian winter as islamists and militarists take centre stage - it still seems prescient.

The more so as I reflect on an event I attended last night where unreconstructed monetarist Simon Heffer offered an engaging lecture on ethics in the City in the light of the crash. Predictably he blamed Brown and Clinton for the crash, made virtually no reference to the Reagan/Thatcher economic experiment and therefore seemed to suggest that a dose of monetary discipline would see everything right. His argument is worth engaging with and the text of his lecture can be found here.

It was interesting listening to him with the memory of Ed Miliband's conference speech still fresh and being reminded that beyond the bruhaha of British politics there are ideas and arguments being floated and made. We should be encouraged by this.

The media has a tendency to reduce debate to soundbite, to give the impression that politics is only about who can spend the least and get the most done, and, in particular, that listeners and viewers are only interested in what's in it for them. Indeed, if the polls are to be believed, most listeners and viewers do not believe that politicians are interested in them at all.

Paul Mason's book reminded me that there is a debate going on across the globe about what kind of world we want to live in. It is debate filled with passion and creativity, fuelled by new technology and fresh thinking, social media, street protests and coffee shop discussion; it's a debate where old ideas, long forgotten approaches, are rubbing shoulders with the new; it's a debate we are all invited to be a part of.

So is it kicking off where we are?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Entering a land of promise...

I'm slowly re-entering 'normal' life after a great break in the south of France. We spent two weeks in Le Somail on the banks of the Canal du Midi, deep in the heart of the Languedoc, basking in the late summer sun. Idyllic.

On the way there and back we stopped off in Amiens, Clermont-Ferand, Chalon-sur-Soane and Reims. We sampled some great food and excellent wine, we wondered in medieval streets and churches, investigated Gallo-Roman remains, tip-toed into the Medietrranean, read, slept, laughed and chilled. Perfect.

While I was there, I read Tracey Thorn's engaging autobiography about being a singer/songwriter and one half of the wonderful Everything but the Girl (if we'd known we were going to last, she says, we'd have chosen a better name). Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a popstar is a gem. Thorn writes in a disarmingly honest way about her career, her songcraft, her life-long partnership with Ben Watt.  I first heard her on a Cherry Red sampler in the early 1980s both as solo artist as one third of Marine girls. Reading her account of those years and what followed made me want to listen to the music all over again - something to look forward to in the autumn.

It's a huge privilege to be able to drop everything, swan off and enjoy almost three weeks of uninterrupted leisure. I'm aware of so many who can't do it for all sorts of reasons. So I realise how blessed I am.

And I return to a church that's been doing great without me (just as it should be!) and new reading to look forward to. In particular, this morning my copy of Without Borders by Rob Schellert dropped on my mat (well, it was handed to me by the postman because the package wouldn't fit through our letter box!).

Rob is a lovely guy who is currently working alongside East London's anarchist and squatter communities, exploring how to share life, Jesus, and make community.I love spending time with him, exploring his world, listening to him gently unfold his story. I've already read a good deal of the book in draft but am relishing getting to grips with the finished article. You can get your hands on a copy (and I really think you should) at his website (here).

I will also begin reflecting on our autumn series tomorrow. We will be exploring the Kingdom of God under the title a brighter day (taken from a great Gungor song). We'll be looking at a number of the paradoxes of the Kingdom that make it difficult to pin down but wonderful to be a part of - personal/political, public/private, puzzling/plain, present/potential, etc... I'll be blogging thoughts as we go.

I'm looking forward to having Nelson Kraybill's Upside Down Kingdom and reading Jim Wallis' new book, On God's Side, as companions on this adventure. At our later service, we'll be exploring the same theme using Charlie Peacock's album Kingdom Come and other great music.

So, bring it on; I think the autumn is full of promise...

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Off to France tomorrow (yay!). And I slotted the final album into the journey playlist yesterday when I finally succumbed to the charms of Random Access Memory by Daft Punk.

What a glorious melange of 1970s influences - Niles Rogers guitar (actually played by Nile Rogers), rubbery bass and tight synthesised rhythms worthy of Giorgio Moroder (in whose honour there's a track); it's fabulous prog pop, the sound of summer, ideal for powering down the peage.

Apart from that I've got lots of reading matter and am looking forward to exploring Languedoc in the late summer sun, chilling round the pool and sampling the local cuisine.

Don't miss me too much!