Monthly Archives: March 2010
David Flavell's report on his 2008/09 sabbatical, looking at growing churches in the USA, England and Irreland.
Various websites are reporting a study for the BBC in which 79% of respondents (27,000 people around the world) say that Internet access is a fundamental human right. The BBC report itself is here, and the full report in PDF is here. Tech sites such as PC Pro report it, too.
Much as I love techie stuff, I think we have to be careful about our language. I find it interesting that the lively comments on the PC Pro report are not all fawning agreement. The idea of net access as a fundamental right is described as ‘hogwash’ by one commenter and ‘a privilege’ by another.
The point in the report is one about communication. Here is one extract from the BBC news report:
“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News.
“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”
He said that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.
“We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
We need to communicate. The Internet is now fundamental to that. Ergo, internet access is a fundamental human right.
‘Rights language’ is all around us. Have you noticed how politicians, when they describe some improvement in welfare or health provision, say it is what people deserve? Gordon Brown certainly does. It’s on a par with the execrable ‘Because I’m worth it’ adverts.
Am I alone in being bothered by the use of ‘human rights’ language? By the looks of those PC Pro comments, I’m not. Just to raise a doubt about human rights language today is to risk being labelled as an oppressor, but from a Christian perspective it needs challenging. In fact, I would argue such terms are used recklessly and thoughtlessly by Christians.
Why? Because – as the late Lesslie Newbigin argued – the language of human rights is secular. It arises in a post-Enlightenment society where faith in God had been relegated to the private sphere. In the public, ‘secular’ discourse, humankind was the highest rank of creature and virtually deified. Rights language is about what belongs to deities, Newbigin said. Therefore, to speak of human rights is to talk in idolatrous terms.
To many ears, this will be shocking. How else do we protect some basics of human existence? But would it not be better from a Christian perspective to speak of human dignity (because we are made in the image of God) and human need? Welfare and health provision – to return to the example of politicians – are issues of dignity and need. The ability to communicate – as Dr Touré indicates – is pretty basic to human life. Whether we all need to communicate in every which way is debatable, of course, but the fundamental need is there. If society becomes so dependent upon information via the Internet, then Christians may perceive that the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor could be a moral issue.
However, we probably need to qualify the link between the Internet and information. Firstly, it isn’t entirely the case – surely we’re not going to dignify everything from Facebook status updates to pornography with the label of ‘information’. Secondly, ‘information’ is an insufficient category for Christians. What we value is ‘wisdom’, which is more than a pile of facts: it is what moral choices we are going to make and live with those facts, in the light of God. And that is even more basic to human flourishing than information.
Mike Bossingham thinks so. (PDF of article here; equivalent Facebook discussion here.) For my money, I think they are different, too, and I agree with Mike that the culture established in the Methodist Church where the worship leader is just Santa’s little helper to the preacher is all wrong. So too is the notion that if you can preach you can lead worship, but if you can lead worship you can’t necessarily preach. I have always thought my primary gifting was in preaching, but in Methodism that means I normally have to lead worship as well. At that point I break down for ongoing creative ideas.
The Facebook thread goes on to debate Mike’s idea of balancing contemporary and traditional elements in worship, but to me that’s a separate argument.
What are your thoughts?
My ‘big’ birthdays – the ones ending in zeros – always seem to be memorable. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
My thirtieth birthday fell on a Sunday during my ministerial training in Manchester. My fellow student John Wiltshire and his wife Judy invited me to their flat for a birthday dinner. I still remember the delicacy they served up: beans on toast. Not that I was grumbling on a student grant.
When the time came for me to head back to the hall of residence, John asked if I wanted to call a cab. Being an experienced city dweller, I declined, thinking I knew the safe ways back. No, actually, it was because I was too mean to pay out for one.
Big mistake. I was mugged on the way by a teenage thug. So much for being city-wise. I recall another student, Martyn Coe, who phoned my bank and got my credit card cancelled, and another, Stuart Wild, a former solicitor, who came to the police station with me.
My fortieth was much happier. It was the day I introduced my girlfriend Debbie to my family. My sister and brother-in-law had booked a table at a French restaurant, and my parents joined us. When Debbie came to order her steak, the waitress asked her how she wanted it cooked. In a memorable reply she said, “Cremated.” It was, she explained, the only way she could ever be sure of getting meat well done.
A year and a quarter later, Debbie was my lovely wife, and my family have had to grow accustomed to her frequent comparisons between spades and shovels.
So to my fiftieth, on Thursday just gone. Debbie and the children had prepared a bag-full of surprises for me, all planned with loving detail. Perhaps most special was that both kids had made their own birthday cards for me. Price doesn’t matter: love does.
After taking the monkeys to school, Debbie and I decided we would drive somewhere for breakfast. Turning the key in the ignition, we heard a strange noise. Had it not been a dry, sunny day, I would have sworn it was the sound of the rear window wiper. But even an absent-minded person like me doesn’t usually manage that.
At a garage later, we discovered it was the exhaust. I couldn’t complain: it was the original exhaust, and the car is eleven years old. Nevertheless, I hadn’t bargained on spending my birthday morning at ATS.
That evening, we were due to go out for a tapas meal. Our favourite babysitter was ready to come, but at tea-time, Mark started complaining that he felt sick.
“Don’t be silly,” I said, “It’s just that you woke up early. You’re tired.”
Wrong, Dad. The bug in his stomach announced its presence in spectacular fashion. No meal out, but fish and chips later from the chippie. Debbie said we should have stuck a candle in my cod and taken a photo.
But who cares? Having become a parent at a later age than most, it’s a small thing to miss a restaurant to look after a child.
You can always rely on Matthew Paul Turner to highlight the stranger areas of Christianity. He’s seen it from the inside in his upbringing. Today, he has two videos that are pushing for places in the Champions League of crazy Christianity. Firstly, the Holy Ghost Holy Pokey:
Secondly – can you adapt the lyrics of a song about oral sex into a worship song? These folks clearly think you can.
Laugh? Cry? Both?
When I was a young Christian, I wanted contemporary Christian music covered on Radio 1. When they covered the Greenbelt Festival, I was delighted. I wanted them to play Christian music, but I was embarrassed at the infamous attempt by Christians to get the band Heartbeat into the charts with their song ‘Tears From Heaven’. It was when well-known evangelical-charismatic preachers started saying it was the right thing to do that it was obvious something was wrong. It wasn’t their area of expertise, and one of the campaigners, Colin Urquhart, had one of his offspring in the band. I still wanted Christian music on ‘secular’ radio, but never understood just how much the BBC had to chase the coat tails of the commercial stations. Nor did I understand the irony of getting what was or should have been a counter-cultural message to have a mainline hearing.
Skip to my mid-thirties. I’m in my first appointment as a minister in the town of Hertford. A bunch of us are running youth worship events in the town, in church halls, a disused shop and eventually in the local night club, Zero. We call our event ‘One@Zero’. Some of our number have been going down to Littlehampton in Sussex to witness a youth worship event called ‘Cutting Edge’, led by what was called the Cutting Edge Band. That band morphed into Delirious? The teenagers at our event and we leaders followed them with interest and enthusiasm. When they started releasing singles in order to get into the charts, we all went and bought them. In fact, Hertford’s local independent record/CD shop, Tracks, used to supply a weekly Top 10 sales chart to the local newspaper. So we piled in there to buy them in the week of release. When ‘Deeper’
was released and made number 20 nationally, it was number one in the Hertford chart.
As they released more singles, we bought them. They had a few more to make the lower end of the Top 20, roughly comparable with other cult bands of the time. Nevertheless, the influential Chris Evans infamously refused to book them for his hit TV show TFI Friday, and Radio 1 still shunned them – something Q Magazine covered sympathetically at the time. It got to the point that the band called one of their albums ‘Audio Lessonover‘, an anagram of ‘Radio One Loves Us’. The singles eventually stopped, and they concentrated on their huge influence on the contemporary worship movement with evangelical-charismatic Christianity and beyond. I guess Christians shouldn’t have been surprised the band didn’t become the hoped-for darlings of the Smash Hits crowd. But you live and learn.
History repeats itself.
Because it’s happening again. Only in a different way, powered by social media. The principles of Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ are being applied by Christians. Facebook groups have sprung up, not orchestrated by Delirious? (who recently split up, anyway), but by fans. The first one I saw was called ‘Anyone up for getting a No. 1 for Delirious?‘ The founder, Steve Jeffery, describes his motives this way:
So some dude managed to get Rage Against The Machine to No.1 for Christmas. Is anyone out there up for doing the same thing for Delirious? If you are then join this group. You need to download the track between the 29th Mar & 3rd April, the track will be History Maker, will all need to buy it from iTunes (or other download outlet) in the same week.
Please only join if you are actually going to commit to spend 75p on iTunes to make this happen. Spread the word and join now! I think it would be a great gift from us fans back to the band if we can make this happen!
You can see the social media connections. This is a people movement, like those who couldn’t face another saccharine X-Factor winner having the Christmas number one, and who successfully gave Simon Cowell a bloody nose by supporting a Rage Against The Machine track.
The second group – with, at present, more followers – is called ‘Christian music topping the UK charts!‘ This too is motivated by the people power of social media, as they make clear:
Although this initiative has not derived from the band I have been in touch with their record company (Furious Records) and they are more than happy for this initiative to take place and are excited to see how it unfolds!
Those two campaigns are specific, and apparently time-limited to getting people downloading the track ‘History Maker’
during Holy Week, so that Delirious? get the number one slot on Easter Day (which may not be commercially significant in the music industry, but obviously is for Christians).
To these must now be added a (so far tiny) group with a longer aim, ‘Christian chart music for a year‘, who say
Christian music seems to be lacking from todays chart – yet there is some cracking stuff out there. We intend to try and push for at least one christian artist in the UK Top 40 every week for the next year. We’re not bothered about number one’s.
We want to inspire debate. To have DJ’s questioning why they are playing christian music. For people to talk to each other about their beliefs. To see churches swell with people who are curious. To say that we have a voice and that we are being marginalised. This could be an icebreaker to openly talk about your faith with someone else.
Approximately 5000 people buying the same track in a week will secure us a top 40 hit. Please help to spread the message of Jesus.
What can I do?
1. Press the “Become a Fan” button up top there.
2. Tell all of your Christian friends. (Click “Suggest to friends” to the left)
3. Post your ideas and suggestions in the forum (click the “Discussions” tab)
4. Support the single of the week
These are interesting reasons. Despite my background in remembering past failed campaigns, I don’t want to say anything cynical, especially since some of these campaigns are attracting young Christians and I don’t want to be negative in a way that damages their faith, or alternatively so puts their backs up they become obstinate. Instead, I would invite discussion around a number of themes.
Firstly, how are we going to engage in the proposed debate? It is a laudable approach, though – better the conversational approach in an Internet campaign, I think. Therefore the debate needs to be peaceable, not confrontational.
Secondly, let’s tease out the concern about Christians having a voice and the fear of being marginalised. That is an ongoing worry for many Christians, and is being heightened by the looming General Election in the UK. Will we be listened to? We have a right to be heard as members of a democracy. What we don’t have is any right to special status. Indeed, Jesus warned that only a few would take the ‘narrow way’, and the biblical images of exiles, of strangers in a strange land, are uncomfortable ones that we may have to embrace (without that in any way meaning that we should be silent). If the campaign becomes one about Christian rights, I think we can be sure there is a real sense in which we will not gain a hearing, because we will alienate people – just the opposite of what is desired.
Thirdly, if this is to be an icebreaker, let’s make sure our conversation is ‘seasoned with salt’.
Fourthly, let’s think about what constitutes good Christian witness. It won’t simply be Christian music in the charts – and especially at a time when the charts are less and less important. It will be about the kind of people we are. We still – even more – need to earn the right to be heard. We all need to be ‘history makers’ by our loving involvement in the world, so that people care about what we say and sing about.