Archive for Culture

Peace Pagoda

Peace Pagoda

April 22, 2013  |  Church, Culture, Featured, Photos, Theology, Wisdom  |  3 Comments

The PointRecently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.

When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).

However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.

When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.

All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.

Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.

I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.

Xscape MK Central

After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).

The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.

There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.

But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).

Stadium MKOn a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.

What do you think?

Reflections on an Adventure with the Holy Spirit

Reflections on an Adventure with the Holy Spirit

March 2, 2013  |  Church, Culture, Featured, Theology  |  1 Comment

A few weeks ago I went on an adventure with the Holy Spirit. It still excites me to think about it… [read about it before you go on...] Since the adventure, I’ve been reflecting on and processing a number of aspects of it. In fact, for the first few days I could do little else! Here are some of those reflections…

Imago Dei

I like to engage in a little informal ethnography from time to time. By which I mean I’m a people-watcher. Not in a creepy way you understand. I like to observe people as they go about their business. Whether I’m enjoying a coffee and watching people outside, or at the next table, I’m fascinated by people. As I observe I try to build up ‘their story’ from what I see: sometimes their interactions with others, sometimes their appearance. I find it fascinating.

Big HeartedOne thing we were reminded of during the the Big Hearted event was that every individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei). As we were sent out into the town to seek people we were reminded of truth. It is amazing how that one fact changes the way you see people, and the way you respond to them. It shouldn’t – but it absolutely does. I need to remember that not just as I’m walking down the street, or sitting in a coffee shop, but also when I’m in difficult situations with ‘difficult’ people. It can change your perspective and your attitude – if you’ll let it.

Conservative Charismatic

I said previously that I stepped way outside my comfort zone on that Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t really explain why.  As you may have gathered from my ‘people watching’ habit mentioned above, I’m an introvert rather than an extrovert. I’m much happier in my own company or that of friends, than I am trying to engage with people I don’t know (however ‘nice’ they might be). Small talk is not a spiritual gift I possess, which makes things even harder. So to head out onto the streets to deliberately engage with people I don’t know (especially with such a ‘strange’ motive & message) was a huge challenge for me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my team members I’d probably have bottled it and not engaged with anyone.

But the greater challenge & discomfort came from the necessary reliance on the voice & guidance of the Holy Spirit. My background is in fairly conservative churches, where the Holy Spirit’s presence is understood but rarely exhibited (I think that’s a fair comment – if not, I’m sure I’ll be corrected). Don’t misunderstand me though, I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to me & guides. I very clearly feel His leading as I work, as I minister, as I study and even as I do various bits of administration. But it is very much according to His timing and not mine. But with this exercise we had just 5 minutes to pray and hear from the Spirit. I felt a huge weight of pressure from that.

But my main reflection on this aspect of the day is to note that none of the clues which led to our ‘treasure’ were from my list. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hugely confident when I wrote my clues down (not least ‘Top Hat’) but they were all I felt I’d received, so had to go with it. I absolutely believe that the Spirit was at work that afternoon, and in the way it was described He would be by Chris Duffett. But I need to be more in tune with and attentive to the Spirit’s voice. I’ve learned over time, and through painful mistakes, to recognise and be obedient to His leading, but I pray He’ll open my ears to hear His voice too.

Greater Things

I was secretly pleased with myself that afternoon; pleased that I signed up for what (for me at least) was the most difficult & uncomfortable workshop option, and pleased that I didn’t bottle it. However nervous I felt, I still went, trusting in God all the way. Well, doubting just a little at times, but broadly stepping out in faith. As I’ve reflected on this and the previous point, I’ve come to the conclusion that greater confidence leads to greater courage. A greater confidence that the Spirit is at work, is interested in *everyone*, and is willing to speak and direct us to them for ‘divine appointments’, leads to a greater courage to step out beyond our comfort zone. And as that courage is rewarded with story after story of God at work, so the confidence and courage increase.

Scripture

As I’ve thought back to what happened with our group that afternoon, one piece of Scripture keeps coming to mind. It’s the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Towards the end of a conversation during which He treats her with the kind of love & respect she deserves but doesn’t often receive, He reveals knowledge of this woman that no stranger could possibly know. She runs away saying to anyone who will listen ‘come and see a man who told me everything I ever did – could He be the Messiah?‘.

This phrase came to me as we were talking to Den. We’d approached him with this strange story of looking for treasure, guided by the Holy Spirit, and as we shared the clues one by one, his face changed. Suddenly he realised that God was interested in him, and knew all about him.

As far as I’m aware Den & David still haven’t made it to church, which is a little disappointing. But it doesn’t cause me to doubt the power of what happened. I’m confident that the Holy Spirit was at work that afternoon, through the obedience of three men walking around town feeling slightly awkward, and in the life of a man called Den. Even though he’s not come through on his promise to go to church*, he will always have the knowledge that God knows him (and knows more about him than he’d care to admit), loves him, and sought him out. [*let's not pretend that we can only 'do business' with God in church - that's for another day!]

And Finally…

Chris DuffettI’ll close with one further reflection on that passage which I hope will be encouraging to Chris as he  continues the Big Hearted tour & his year as Baptist Union President. The woman goes away changed from her experience with Jesus. He revealed to her in word & deed that He was the long-promised Messiah. She ran away and told others about Him (the first female evangelist!), and they believed because of what she told them. And others came to see Him for themselves, and put their faith in Him too.

I pray that today, tomorrow or in a years time, something about Den’s experience will cause him to share it with others, and that through him, others will come to put their faith in Jesus.

Chris started the day by saying that it was about ’looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit‘. It’s probably too early to say ‘mission accomplished‘ – but it’s a step along the way.

 

 

 

BBC Newsnight Debacle

BBC Newsnight Debacle

Comments Off
November 15, 2012  |  Culture, Featured  |  Comments Off

I’m confused.

The BBC Newsnight programme broadcast a film in which an individual claimed they had been sexually abused by a prominent Tory MP of the time, but no names were mentioned. Speculation elsewhere, mostly online but not exclusively, led to an individual being named. Newsnight & the BBC have been hauled over the coals for ‘shoddy journalism’ & the Director General has done the ‘honourable thing’ and resigned. But if Newsnight didn’t name anyone, what did they do wrong? Surely they just reported the allegations which had been made by an individual.

This morning the BBC reported via Twitter:

Then this afternoon they updated this to include the name of an individual. [I'm not posting the name of the individual or a link to the story for legal reasons]

If the BBC were wrong to broadcast allegations of sexual abuse by a prominent Tory (even though they didn’t name him), how is it right that they can broadcast an individual’s name, whose arrest alleges that they are involved in a similar scandal?

A current headline on the BBC News website has inverted commas around part of the story: Savile police ‘arrest [individual]‘. Surely that can’t be enough save themselves from further legal problems? If so, will it also work for Newsnight reporters on-screen to use ‘air quotes’ around slightly dodgy journalism?

The big issue in the former case has been the damage to the individual’s reputation caused by the allegations. Does the same not also apply to reporting the arrest of another individual for similar ‘offences’ (see what I did there). Are we not innocent until proven guilty?

I’m pretty sure I must have missed an obvious point somewhere. Can anyone shed any light for me?

Disappointing GCSE Results

Disappointing GCSE Results

August 23, 2012  |  Culture, Featured, Schools, Wisdom  |  1 Comment

Today is a big day – a day which fills young people across the country with fear and dread. It is GCSE results day.

Today, especially, I’m reminded that I got poor GCSE results – the worst in my family:

  • C – Maths Level II
  • C – Environmental Science
  • C – Physical Science
  • D – Design
  • D – English
  • E – Drama
  • E – Integrated Humanities
  • G – German
  • U* – English Literature (*but that’s another story for another time!)

But today, I’m also reminded that since then I’ve worked hard and those grades are just a distant memory. Here’s the story of how a boy from a single parent family on a council estate responded to his disappointing GCSE results.

I left school at 15 (due to an August birthday) with those grades and not much else. I got a job which paid a poor wage, but included a day-release College course for three years. At the end of those three years I could add to my CV:

  • RSA: Level II Diploma in Information Technology
  • City & Guilds: Coding & Programming in BASIC
  • City & Guilds: Application Programming in Pascal

After my College course my pay was increased and I was given a company car. I gained a wealth of experience in the areas of business, computing, and life skills. I took every opportunity presented to me, plus a few which I made for myself, and was eventually offered a job by a company I’d been working in partnership (these days that’s called ‘head hunting’). I accepted the new job, even though it would challenge & stretch me and my skills, and it did! The focus of my role changed from hardware repairs to software development & support (building on my college qualifications).

My next job (third) presented a wealth of further opportunities for learning & development which I grabbed with both hands and made the most of. The experience I had received up to that point (not what I learned at school) meant that I was able to do the job. When I resigned from that job I was able to say with thanks and honesty that the only reason I had the experience to get my next job (fourth) was due to what I’d learned with them.

My next job (fourth) was my dream job & came with a dream salary increase. As a contemporary philosopher has said recently: ‘it’s not about the money, money, money…‘; but actually it is a little bit about the money. It definitely helps when the money increases from ‘can just about afford to keep your flat & car’ to ‘let’s upgrade to a sporty car and still have spare cash at the end of the month’!

At the end of that job another adventure began, which involved even more hard work, and allowed me to add a further qualification to my CV:

  • BA (Hons) in Youth & Community Work & Applied Theology (2:1 – so close to a first that it still hurts!)

I’m now enrolled at the University of Oxford to continue my studies. If you’d told me all this when I opened the envelope which contained my GCSE results, I would have laughed in your face. Whatever the reasons for those poor GCSE results (and there are many!) they have never held me back. It’s been hard work along the way – but it has been so worth it.

So whatever joy or disappointment you received in your results envelope today, please remember that they are nothing but a stepping stone at the start of what can be an amazing journey – are you prepared to continue the hard work?

Lent vs Social Media

Lent vs Social Media

April 2, 2012  |  Church, Culture, Featured, Theology  |  1 Comment

It’s traditional to give something up for the period of Lent. Many people do so – even those without any personal religious conviction or understanding of the significance, which puzzles me a little. I usually struggle to know what to give up (if I should bother at all) and many of the things I’ve given up previously I’ve not ‘taken up’ again – mostly notably sugar in tea/coffee.

A number of people suggested that I give up Twitter for Lent. I told them I thought it was a preposterous idea, but they didn’t understand why. In response I suggested that perhaps they’d give up using the telephone for Lent and they didn’t quite grasp what I was getting at. My point was that for me Twitter is more than a frivolous pastime, but rather a tool & a method of communication. I would no more choose to give up Twitter than I could choose to give up email for Lent – both are a core part of my work/ministry tool kit, and my social make-up. I have made some great friends through Twitter (and other social media) many of whom I’ve met subsequently in person; I have received support from (and been able to offer support to) fellow youth workers & ministers in difficult circumstances; I’ve received news, information & resources I might otherwise have missed; I’ve been able to pray for people I don’t know (and request prayer from others too); I’ve been inspired by the work of others; I’ve been challenged by quotes posted by others; I’ve become aware of pastoral situations I needed to respond to that otherwise would have remained unknown to me. The list could go on…

I have to admit though, that my use of Twitter is not entirely without frivolity. My use of Twitter sometimes gets in the way of face-to-face encounters and other worthwhile activities, as I discovered as I took a step back and analysed my practice. But that is due to the slightly OCD (obsessive-compulsive) side of my personality. I currently follow 342 people/organisations/projects on Twitter – which means that when they post an update it appears in my timeline for me to read. Due to my OCD tendencies I found it very difficult to simply let these updates pass me by without at least skim-reading them. When I was following 20 or 50 accounts this was less of a problem, but as that number increased so did the time it took to read them. And so the problem grew…

Having realised this, and recognising that some accounts have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than others, I decided to try to focus my Twitter use during Lent. I didn’t want to unfollow lots of users, so I decided to set-up a list on Twitter of the people I felt offered the most value, were most challenging, or were ‘necessary’ for my job (young people, colleagues, organisations, etc which I need to keep in touch with). I set an arbitrary limit of 100 for the list, but actually only added 80 accounts. I then updated the Twitter app on my phone & my PCs to only monitor the new list. This list would only limit the accounts I was following/reading, and I decided that I’d still engage with people who weren’t on the list if they started a conversation with me (as it would be rude not to respond). [I should say that I intended to use the time I wrestled back from Twitter to engage in something which would develop my spirituality, but that's for a separate post.]

We’re almost at the end of Lent so I thought I’d reflect on how things have been going…

Reflections:

The most surprising realisation is just how much of a chore catching up with Twitter had become. I can only see it now, but it had become something that I felt compelled to do (due to my OCD tendencies) but which often seemingly had little value or reward. If I’d had a particularly busy day, when I eventually came to ‘check in’ with Twitter, it would take a large chunk of time to catch up, and if by the end I felt there was little value to it, it’s hard to see how this constitutes a wise use of my time (Ephesians 5:15-16). With the increase in people/organisations I was following came the requirement for an increased investment of time, but seemingly with reduced value/rewards.

I had intended to use the time I ‘reclaimed’ from Twitter to engage in some reading which would be of spiritual benefit to me. I started to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which is a fascinating exploration of spiritual disciplines. The run-up to this Easter has been a particularly busy time (as it is each year) and so my ‘reclaimed’ time has been spent on keeping up with the to-do list & the ‘day job’, so I’ve not read as much as I’d have liked. But what I have read has been really inspiring and massively challenging, and I look forward to continuing the journey.

Not all the people/organisations I follow provide an entirely wholesome experience. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment & a bit of light relief, but I’m reminded of the words of Paul to the Philippians (4:8): ‘keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.’ {emphasis mine}

The least positive outcome of the way I’ve changed my Twitter use has been that of reduced conversation. As mentioned previously, a lot of my Twitter contacts have become friends over recent months & years; some of whom I’ve met in person, others I’ve spoken to via phone/Skype, and others only via Twitter. In addition, there is an amazingly supportive & creative community of Youth Workers & Ministers on Twitter who utilise the hashtag #ywchat to engage with one another & the wider community (as it would be almost impossible to follow each of them). Throughout Lent I have felt that I’ve neglected some friendships which I’ve come to value (although many made it to my reduced list) and have certainly been unable to properly (perhaps usefully) engage with my colleagues in the #ywchat community. [I hope to rectify this shortly at #coffeeshopcrawl3 - a series of 'real-life' #ywchat get-togethers...]

On a purely technical note, one frustration with my use of a Twitter List for Lent has been that the list function doesn’t include native retweets from the people on the list, only their original tweets. So I’ve missed out on a lot of resources, quotes, & challenges which I’d otherwise hoped to receive. However, this has led to extra time being available – so it’s a mixed blessing. Also, due to the software/apps I use, by following a list rather than a general Twitter stream I appear to have lost some of the conversational functionality. As this is a big part of my Twitter use, I’ve felt this loss keenly (but not wanted to invest additional time in finding an alternative).

Response:

I’m still trying to decide on the best way to engage with Twitter once Lent has ended. Clearly I need to reduce the amount of time I had been spending on it previously, but not in a way which diminishes the level of engagement with people . I’ve considered the use of subject-related lists (pastoral, geographical, organisations, resources, etc), but I don’t wish to diminish the level of interaction with people, and I fear that will be the case.

The biggest issue I face is overcoming (or more likely, managing) my OCD tendencies and getting better at allowing things to pass me by.

I expect that my eventual solution will be a combination of unfollowing a large number of accounts, and employing the list-based system outlined above.

Challenge:

  • What strategies have you employed to cope with increased ?
  • Do you have any tips to share?

Post your thoughts in the comments below…

#LoveMonday

#LoveMonday

Comments Off
May 2, 2011  |  Church, Culture, Elsewhere, Featured, Resources, Theology, Twitter  |  Comments Off

There’s a small but steady ‘movement’ on Twitter to use Mondays as a specific opportunity to encourage others. It’s called #loveMonday and it works like this: You send an encouraging message (public or private) to three other Twitter users, and invite them to encourage three of their friends/contacts/followers. Don’t forget to include #loveMonday in the message. Simple. Of course, it doesn’t have to just be via Twitter. Feel free to do the same but on Facebook, via email, or even offline (send a postcard, leave a message scrawled on a post-it note, etc.).

» Read More »
Easter Live: a critical view

Easter Live: a critical view

April 17, 2011  |  Church, Culture, Featured, Resources, Theology  |  13 Comments

I’m a big fan of Easter. No really, I am. But this year I’m feeling a bit grumpy about it. It all started about two weeks ago, and has been building since then. Let me try to explain why:

I’m also a big fan of Twitter. I find it an incredibly useful tool for connecting with people who have shared interests and discussing said interests. I use it to learn from others, to reflect with them, and to interact on a whole number of things. This year Easter & Twitter have aligned – or perhaps collided.

Easter(LIVE) 2011 is a project run by ShareCreative & the Evangelical Alliance and a number of other partners. It aims to encourage people to retell the Easter story in their own words:

It’s Passover week in 1st Century Jerusalem. A bustling throng of Jewish pilgrims have gathered in the city. But this year a preacher/carpenter from Nazareth is set to turn the tables of history – right before their eyes. This is the Easter story and this is your cue.

By Tweeting your story, the Easter(LIVE) website allows you to showcase your very own Passion Play. Be it a historical and Biblical account or a poetic, visual, musical or creative retelling – it’s up to you. It’s a chance to explore, to learn and be creative. Give it your personal stamp, bring it to life and share it with everyone.

So they’re encouraging people to send out their own version of the Easter story, using Twitter as the underlying tool, and collating the tweets into a user profile on the Easter(LIVE) website. Last year they took a slightly different approach which I encouraged our Church to support, and I found very helpful & valuable. Everyone was encouraged to follow the @easterlive account on Twitter, and they published a retelling of the story to anyone who was following. I thought this was a fantastic idea, and was well executed (similar to the Christmas story being told through the Natwivity project).

There’s a lot about this project which I love

  • anything which gets people hearing & talking about the Gospel has to be a good thing
  • I love that the story is being retold from different perspectives – some people will be writing their account with their own friends, family, community, context in mind which is really important
  • it is encouraging people to reflect on an “old” story in a new way
  • and as a recovering techie, I love the fact that they’re making great use of an existing & popular tool (Twitter)

But I have number of issues with it too:

One gripe is that a number of the people I follow on Twitter have signed up to the project. So they’ve been busy developing the characters through whom the story will be told, and carefully crafting their updates, waiting for the launch today (Palm Sunday). When I read about the project I quickly realised that this was going to have an impact on my Twitter feed. With approx 10-15 of the people I follow having signed up, and with one or two of them having mentioned that they have 120-160 updates “ready to go” during Holy Week, I was bracing myself to be inundated with Easter(LIVE) tweets. Since midday approximately 70% of the tweets in my Twitter feed have been #EasterLive updates (of course, that represents a great success my the project’s organisers to get people involved). Initially I feared that my general use and experience of Twitter would be negatively impacted by an abundance of EasterLive updates. It’s still less than a day into the project, but so far, that fear has been realised. That’s a bit of a selfish gripe though – who am I to moan if my experience of Twitter is impacted, when potentially thousands of people will hear the Gospel message?

I may also sound like a bit of a hypocrite as I’ve said it must be a good thing to tell the Gospel story in a new way and encourage people to reflect on it (some for the first time). But I want to question just how useful it will be for people to hear the Gospel told from multiple perspectives, in multiple styles, and each of them crossing over the other. How easy will it be for someone to follow the story for the first time? How helpful will it be at helping someone reflect on the story in a new way, when it’s actually presented in a number of new perspectives all at once? Only time will tell.

Personally I haven’t signed up to join the EasterLive project, not out of protest, but due to a lack of creativity (and time) on my part. Instead, I’ve signed up to a project called “The Passion Experience” which is using a similar approach to that of EasterLive 2010. It is also a retelling of the Easter story, and uses Twitter as it’s underlying vehicle. For me it seems to involve most of the positive aspects of Easter(LIVE) without the negatives.

What do you think?

  • Am I being selfish?
  • Is it confusing to retell the same story from multiple perspectives at the same time confusing?
  • Do you feel the approach taken by Easter(LIVE) this year is effectively spamming Twitter?
Big Society, Big Mission

Big Society, Big Mission

February 11, 2011  |  Church, Culture, Featured, Resources, Theology  |  8 Comments

Recently I attended a seminar entitled ‘Big Society, Big Mission’, organised by the Central Baptist Association and presented by Geoff Colmer & Helen Wordsworth. On reflection, it was very light on Big Society info (as is the government!) and so focussed on Big Mission. Nothing ground breaking, but a useful challenge and some Holy prompts along the way for me and my context.

What follows are my sketchy notes of the content as presented, and thoughts which arose during the session.

The Big Society is a Conservative idea with its roots in, among others, the Centre for Social Justice & and the thinking of Benjamin Disraeli. Many of the people involved in the continued efforts to shape and develop the concept & practice are Christians of many persuasions.

Details are very difficult to come by, but the working definition shared was of: social action, public service reform and community empowerment.

The government have identified four areas in which to trial the Big Society implementation: & Tendring. Liverpool was originally one of the areas but has recently pulled out stating the incompatibility of the budget cuts and the Big Society agenda – Tendring have taken their place.  Each trial area is to appoint a Community Organiser who will be assisted by a Civil Servant.  Their tasks will include devolving budgets to ‘street level’, open source planning & delivering (presumably commissioning) broadband services.

Part of the Big Society plan is to develop a new Community Bank to which communities & groups will be able to apply for funding for their initiatives & services. However, it has been pointed out that due to the budget cuts, the new bank will already have less on the books than is currently given to third sector organisations.

How do Churches fit in?

Currently it can be difficult for Churches & faith groups to gain access to funding due to their faith connections – many funders are reluctant to support them.  It was suggested that under the Big Society ‘model’ the ‘door is ajar’ for faith groups to seek funding: ‘faith will not be a bar to community involvement’ – Eric Pickles, MP [1, 2]

Malcolm Duncan, formerly of FaithWorks, has said that the Big Society represents a once in a generation moment for Churches, and that we must grab it with both hands; he suggested that if we did not, future generations will look back and wonder what on earth we were thinking (no source provided for this quote).

At this point we were asked to share some of the activities/projects our Churches are currently involved in which are practical expressions of the Big Society and its community involvement aspiration. These included dyslexia support groups, debt & budgeting groups, credit unions, conversational English classes and many more.

It was playfully suggested that getting involved in the Big Society means that we’re bailing out the government, and therefore why should we get involved? Wouldn’t it be a distraction to our core mission? This led onto discussions around the relationship of faith & social action: can you get involved in these opportunities & preach the Gospel?

Mention was made of the book ‘Saving Souls, Serving Society’, which provides 15 studies of US churches and discusses the idea of building both social & spiritual capital.

There followed some discussion about mission generally, and the theological imperative; being both evangelistic & serving society, and the connection between the two: [here my notes get even more sketchy]

Williams Carey – ‘using means for the conversion of heathens

References: Matt 28:19-20, Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 24:1,

The Mission of God – Christopher Wright (Langham Partnership)

  • mission is God’s grand narrative
  • a God of mission chooses a people of mission
  • Abraham to Jesus – then through the disciples
  • the mission of God: not ‘where does God fit into our world?’ but ‘where does our life fit?’
  • God’s big story combines both social action & evangelism

Using the metaphor of a river with Christians on one bank and non-Christians on the other, we considered how we could seek & create opportunities for engagement, and looked at a few different methods of ‘crossing the river’. [This time included some questions for reflection, and time for discussion in small groups offering the chance to apply the principles to our own contexts – I didn’t capture all of this detail...]

Firstly, building a bridge, which takes time and a lot of effort & resources, and is usually built from both sides.

  • So what could we do to build bridges with those outside the church?
  • What bridges of communication with people on the other bank already exist and how could they be better used?
  • Who might walk across the bridges which already exist?
  • Who are the best Church people to be on those bridges and how can we release them to be there?

Secondly, find a ferry, an existing crossing (opportunity) which you can use to reach the other side. It was suggested that Chaplaincy services (to schools, shops, workplaces, geographical areas) might be existing opportunities. If you have health professionals or language/music teacher in your church, you might find ways to use them. Perhaps we could even deliberately using public transport more often in order to intentionally engage with people in the community.

Thirdly, place some stepping stones.  Recognising that the gap between the Church and those outside it is too big to cross in one leap, what stepping stones can we intentionally place between the two sides to assist them? We need to make sure the stepping stones are aligned appropriately for each group/opportunity.

Fourthly, build a raft. Create a new opportunity using the resources available – so working in partnership with other groups & organisations, what service could we provide which will meet the needs of our community? Are there people on the other bank who we can engage as helpers in the new project?

Links which may be helpful (or not!):

Instant Gratification

Instant Gratification

Comments Off
December 21, 2010  |  Culture, Featured, Photos  |  Comments Off

I loved playing Monopoly when I was younger, but I was often frustrated. Sometimes by how long the game would go on for, but usually by the amount of time some people used to take thinking about what they’d like to do when it was their turn. The game’s tagline of ‘the fast-dealing property trading game’ never really rang true for me. I was always keen for a speedier version of the game. We tried instigating a time limit for each person’s go, and an overall time limit for the game, but it didn’t quite cut it.

Clearly others shared my frustrations, as I noticed that a new edition of the game has been released with a ‘play faster’ feature for those who can’t wait. Not a new rule to limit the time of each player’s ruminations, but a special die which settles faster once rolled.

Monopoly - the fast-dealing property trading game

Imagine how much time would be saved if all board games were sold with the new faster die – what would mankind be able to achieve with all that extra time?