Category Archives: Culture

Michael Eavis Of The Glastonbury Festival On Methodism And Faith

When I used to read that dismal publication the Methodist Recorder you could guarantee that every year when the Glastonbury Festival came around there would be a reference to its founder, Michael Eavis, as ‘a Methodist’. Well, we learn exactly what kind of Methodist Eavis is in an interview published in the July 2009 edition of Word Magazine. It’s in their ‘Word to the Wise’ column, where well-known people dispense the ‘wisdom’ they have learned over the years. It makes for depressing reading. He says:

I’m a Methodist, we’re chapel people. That’s strange in the 21st century, but Methodism is the social side of religion. We don’t care whether there’s a God or not, really. We’re not that interestested; it’s all about the social side. Charles Wesley, our founder, was a believer in love divine. I’m a believer in love but my love is not divine. I believe in love on earth. We need love for breeding and procreation. Without the love factor on earth we could all be rapists, and that would be dreadful. Love is the most important thing to me personally – but it’s not divine. As Methodists we have enormous social responsibility bred into us. If we make any money we have to spend it on our fellow humans – not all of it, I hasten to add – but most of it. We’ve just built some social housing in Pilton for 22 salt-of-the-earth working-class families with children. And that’s the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life. We have fun, too – we enjoy ourselves, we’re not bearded Mennonites. I’m all for praising nature and you have to tell someone, so we sing loudly and with excitment about creation – we just don’t care precisely how it came about (explodes into laughter)! (Page 60)

Later, he says this:

But with drugs it’s just not my job to stop people doing what they want to do. It’s the Methodist in me. We have broad shoulders. We put up with everyone! (Page 61)

Well, where do I begin? Methodism may – for good or ill – be a broad church, but one thing is for sure: Eavis’ Methodism sure isn’t mine. Yes, my Methodism breeds a sense of social responsibility (although it’s a curious one that cares about homelessness but not about drugs). But to disconnect it from belief in God and God’s love kills the roots of it. (Oh, and to nit-pick: our founder was John Wesley, not Charles.) Eavis might just be a’ cultural Methodist’, to coin a term, much in the same way that we might say there are ‘cultural Catholics’, who have been brought up in that faith but who do not embrace the core beliefs, but that’s about it.

You could say that the Eavis article is typical of much contemporary malaise. The idea that someone famous can dispense wisdom and pronounce on weighty matters such as religion and God is ludicrous and shallow. Much as I might welcome the fact that he still has some kind of social conscience, he is typical of a society that wants social projects but without the religious capital behind many of them. Then, what do we make of his attitude to drug use? Would I be being too cynical if I suggested that it wouldn’t be in the interests of the Glastonbury Festival’s founder to oppose it? No, it must be a coincidence.

Perhaps I am being hard. Maybe I should be more sympathetic and compassionate. I just think the Methodist Church should speak for Methodism (even if I disagree with our hierarchy from time to time). Letting a Michael Eavis trumpet his ignorant views of Methodist Christianity perpetuates ignorance of the Gospel.

But then a ‘secular’ magazine should not be responsible for the Gospel, of course. So maybe this becomes a cry for all of us who do find the core experiences, values and doctrines of Methodist-flavoured Christianity to make them more well-known. Like the need for all to be saved; the belief that no-one is beyond that redemption; that anyone can know they are loved by God in Christ; that personal and social holiness is possible, and we can have an optimism of grace for just how much transformation the Holy Spirit can bring about in and through us.

Because when it comes down to it, God doesn’t rely on the famous. God isn’t dependent upon celebrity culture to spread the Gospel. God calls the ordinary and the obscure to do that job. If you’re as mad as I am by the nonsense spouted by Michael Eavis, let’s rise to the challenge and do it better.

Sabbatical, Day 77: Of Sausages And Crosses

Today, I’d like to apologise to the entire German nation. Every single one of you. By common consent, you make the finest sausages in the known universe. And I’m sure you agree.

But my kids don’t. They think I’m a liar when I tell them that German sausages are the best, and that nothing beats a bratwurst.

Why? Because today, we visited Cressing Temple for its annual St George’s Joust event. It is a wonderful celebration of all things medieval, including crafts, early musical instruments, falconry displays, York versus Lancaster battle re-enactments, and the famous joust with witty script and terrific stuntmen riding the horses. (Oh, and that other medieval theme, the Napoleonic Wars.) 

Having paid our entrance fee, we walked through the gift shop, out into the grounds and there we were greeted first of all by a series of catering concessions. I noted the existence of The German Sausage Company. I pointed it out to the children, and Debbie realised I had set my heart on a snack from there, even though we had brought a picnic. We made it our last call before leaving a highly enjoyable day.

Well, if I’m feeling charitable I have to say we might have caught them on a bad day. I also have to admit that we didn’t complain. But bratwurst doesn’t usually have the texture of half-cooked rubber. I have never seen Mark give up on a sausage so quickly. He could live on a diet of them, if we let him.

And if you ask to have bacon well done, you don’t expect it to pale pink. Because Debbie likes everything well done. She’d have ice cream toasted, if she could. The first time she met my family was for a meal in a French restaurant. She ordered a steak. When the waitress asked how she would like it cooked, she replied in one word my family has never forgotten: “Cremated.”

To add insult, Debbie recognised the brand of orange juice I had been given. “How much did you pay?” was her question.

“A pound,” I said.

“You can get six of those for 99p in Lidl,”she withered. Profit margin is one thing, but that’s – what shall we say? Optimistic? (A little research suggests it might actually be five for £1.29, but it’s still a steep mark-up.)

Now I have to say that – being British, not German (but so were they) – I of course didn’t complain at the time. Perhaps I should have done, but since all the sausages came out of the same container, I don’t think anyone else got a better brattie than we did. So, dear German friends, I am sorry my children now have the wrong impression of your great delicacy. 

It was a disappointing end to a fun day. Rebekah and Mark talked to a woman demonstrating weaving on a medieval loom. We found a company selling dried meat, mushroom and fruit snacks. Their website doesn’t mention the fruit, but we can recommend the dried strawberry and the dried blackberry and apple. 

 

Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Furthermore, the afore-mentioned battle re-enactment was not only lively and fun, it was presented with an educational slant. Along the way, we learned all sorts of things about the nature of medieval warfare that were possibly surprising to many hearers.

 

Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society

Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society

 

 

 

 

To our surprise, Rebekah and Mark had their attention kept all through the half-hour presentation. We had to reasure Mark that the soldiers lying on the ground weren’t really dead – we’ve had a lot of death talk from him since Good Friday. But apart from that – and there’s nothing the re-enactors could have done about that – it was superb.

 

Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust

Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust

 

 

As for the joust itself, that was pure entertainment. Some might not like the fact that the baddie was dubbed the Black Knight, but it seemed not to be about race and more about a pun on ‘black night’. Or it could have been to do with the Black Country, since his punishment when he finally lost was to be sent to Birmingham. Nothing worse, surely.

 

 

A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display

A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display

 

Seeing a falconry display gave me an opportunity to educate the children as to the origins of our surname, which was originally something like Falconer. We were the plebs who looked after the falcons on the Laird’s estate in Aberdeenshire. The name is first found in that county around the 1200s. Medieval times, indeed.

My father has long been convinced (through a story his grandfather told him) that we came from Scotland in recent generations. To that end, Dad supports the Scotland rugby and football teams. Trouble is, we come from a part of the Auld Country called … Lincolnshire. All the way back to the early eighteenth century, there is no sign of the tartan, still less of ‘our’ clan, the Keiths.

 

Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

If I can be serious about one final thing, though, it was the tragic reminder of seeing the Cross everywhere as a symbol not of suffering love but of violence and oppression. Mark and Rebekah posed in borrowed costumes for pictures in a photographer’s tent (and very good they were, too, for the price). Here, you can see Mark in knight’s garments, with his cross. I thought about the wickedness of the Crusades, their perpetration of Christendom by cruelty, and what they did to peoples who should have been shown the love of God in Christ. 

Then I thought there were hundreds, if not thousands of people at the show, and only few of them would have had that thought. Of the few who did, a good number of them would have seen it as further evidence to prove the wickedness of Christianity.

Most of the rest, though, who would have given no thought to the symbol of the cross at all. Like someone who works for our local Schools and Youth Ministries charity said at a meeting last year, most young people haven’t rejected religion. It just isn’t on their radar in the first place.

And that may be the biggest challenge facing the British church today.

Sabbatical, Day 60: April Fools, Online Photos And Music, Tim Keller, Sojourners

This morning before school, we tried to explain April Fool’s Day to the children. They got the hang of it to a certain extent, and much enjoyed the collective prank played on all the pupils at their school today when staff told them they had to hop everywhere. 

Elsewhere, The Guardian claimed it was giving up ink and instead would entirely be published in sub-140 character messages on Twitter. Some might be concerned about dumbing down, I’d be concerned for the spelling – anyone remember the days of the Grauniad? I also received a Facebook message from the We’re Related application, claiming that one Barack Obama of Washington, DC had added me as his fourth cousin, once removed. I’ve never heard of him, so it can’t be true.

Meanwhile, Miss Universe described Guantanamo Bay as ‘fun’ and Alan Shearer became manager of Newcastle United. Oh no, those two are true.

Staying in the realm of truth, it’s been a bit of a techie day. I finally uploaded the Lee Abbey photos to my Flickr account today. I’ve organised them into three sets, all under one collection.

I’ve also been looking at some of the popular online music services in the last twenty-four hours. Yesterday, I downloaded the software for Spotify, but have been hampered by slow connection speeds. Some artists also had far fewer tracks available than I had hoped. I have also signed up for a free trial of emusic. I thought the offer of fifty free MP3 downloads was generous, but soon realised it would be easy to exceed that.

However, the emusic download manager has crashed tonight – whether that’s due to our slow connection as well, I don’t know. Certainly the problem isn’t limited to Spotify: YouTube videos only play a bit at a time, and the Flickr upload I mentioned in the previous paragraph took three attempts to complete. I’ve tried the usual tricks of rebooting and disconnecting the router for thirty seconds, but so far to no avail.

But if all the above sounds like trivial fluff, I have done some serious things today. Most notably, I have read three chapters of Tim Keller‘s ‘The Reason for God‘. To date, I’m impressed with the way he graciously exposes the weaknesses in contemporary objections to faith, especially Christianity. He manages to do so intelligently, without coming on like an intellectual warmonger. The book is definitely for people of a certain academic ability, and while I have the odd query about what he thinks everyone can agree on (immediately after he has exposed fundamental differences), I think this looks like one of the best works of apologetics I have read in years.

And here is a great article from Sojourners, about the increasing involvement in social justice issues by American Christian musicians.

Finally, just to say that Debbie is getting better today. Still washed out, but the fever has subsided and she has not been in bed. I’m relieved she’s improving.

Sabbatical, Day 45: The Gospel At The Post Office

You don’t go to our local Post Office when it opens on a Monday at 9 am. Not unless you need your benefits payment. The queue slithers out of the door and along the street. You’d better have something to occupy your mind.

For although our manse is on a prosperous estate, the nearest Post Office is across the park in a deprived area of town. It’s the only part of Chelmsford to have a tower block.

And, it turns out, you also don’t go there on a Tuesday at 9 am for the same reason. I know, I did that today. To keep things manageable in our small manse, Debbie sells toys, books and clothes the children have grown out of on eBay. She has sold about two dozen items in the last ten days, and I have been taking most of them to the Post Office for her. 

As I waited today, distracting myself with music on my MP3 player, I looked at the variety of people waiting. The tracksuited teenage couple with their toddler. Already, the mother was getting irritated by the child’s independent exploratory jaunts. The mother and adult daughter. Was one of them long term sick? The short, elderly lady immaculately turned out in a red coat far cleaner than any garment most other people were wearing. It was her public signal of dignity. The preponderance of up-to-date mobile phones, clutched by people whose demeanour suggested they couldn’t afford them.

And I thought, what is good news in a culture like this? I lived in such a place for eight years before moving here. Often, there was terrible low self-esteem there. People had been  rejected, dismissed and ignored by governments and commerce. You would have thought it were a simple case of ‘good news for the poor’.

But it wasn’t. For just as the good news is preceded by bad news as Wesley put it (preach law and then preach grace), there was the attitude that society owed them a living. 

Somewhere in between those two attitudes locally is something my local vicar friend Paul has described to me. His parish strides across half of our middle class estate and half of the deprived area. In one half, he has competent, educated, professional people who will volunteer for activities and get things done. In the other, he has people who either cannot or will not take the initiative to do things, because they swim in a culture where everything is done for them. Either they are disabled by that, or they have reason never to grow as people by taking more responsibility.

So what is the shape of the Gospel in such a place? I’m still wondering.

…………

This made me laugh: British nurse told to ‘take English test’ before she can work in Australia. The Daily Mail has gone all morally superior over another easy target case of ‘political correctness gone mad’ (™) but it is crazy. However, it does make a change from the Mail criticising people in this country who can’t speak English. 

Anyway, Happy St Patrick’s Day to you. I commend May We All Be Irish by James Emery White as a suitable Christian reflection for the day.

Sabbatical, Day 40: Ministry And Personality Type Survey Explosion, Child Worries

The response to my surveys into ministry and personality type that I announced yesterday has staggered me. At time of writing, I had 42 members of the Facebook group. 60 people had completed the congregational members’ survey. 29 had completed the ministers’ survey.

At the recommendation of David Burton, I have joined Twitter and am using that to publicise the surveys, too. Please ‘follow’ me if you are on Twitter. My username is davefaulkner.

Other news today mainly concerns the children, and especially Rebekah. Today, she had a ‘number bonds‘ test at school. Testing seems to have started quite early, in my opinion. She is still ten days shy of her sixth birthday. For a few weeks now they have also been having spelling tests, and Becky is getting quite agitated about it. Last night she was late getting to sleep, worrying about whether she would pass. She kept getting stuck on the numbers four and six. What number do you put with four to make ten? What number goes with six to make ten?

There have been two saving graces about this. One is that we have been concerned about her concentration when learning. This certainly made her concentrate – but I felt like we had a GCSE student in the house! The other is that … she passed. Now she’s worried about going up the front at assembly next week and being applauded when the Head Teacher gives her the certificate!

What worries we load onto children at a young age. I have been concerned for a long time about the pressure induced on children by the SATS tests required by the Government. I know these are going to be rationalised, but making children take official tests from the age of seven means they have been turned into nothing less than political footballs by cynical, morally evacuated Governments. Worse, parents who have seen the strain on their children have effectively connived with this by looking for the results in evaluating schools. 

And there are other worries, too. A little while ago, my friend Dave Warnock sent me an invitation on Facebook to join the Pink Stinks campaign.Last night, I finally looked at the campaign and joined up. It’s taking the colour pink as symbolic of the sexualisation of young girls, and that’s something I feel very strongly about as the father of a five-year-old. I’ve joked before about her love of Claire’s Accessories, but it must have been around the time she started school that she began to change from tomboy to girly girl. I have no problem with her having a nice appearance, and frankly for all my life she will always be the most beautiful girl in the world. But I don’t want her value to be based on how physically attractive boys think she is in later years, or how attractive or not she perceives herself to be. 

While Pink Stinks seems to come from a secular feminist origin, having the militant atheist Polly Toynbee as a major cheerleader, there is much in the campaign I am pleased to support. One excellent feature of the website is the naming and shaming of sexist products aimed at children. Another is the section of the site that seeks to promote positive female role models. I’d far rather Rebekah had Sally Ride as an aspirational figure than Amy Winehouse or Paris Hilton. I believe my daughter is made in the image of God, and that gives her a dignity like nothing else on earth. I want her to know she is loved unconditionally, and that she has unique gifts which she can use in the service of God’s kingdom. 

I hadn’t thought too much up to now about the propensity of infants’ school girls to love High School Musical or Hannah Montana. Although I recognised them as telling the stories of teenagers, there hadn’t been anything I’d noticed that seemed  overtly immoral. What had bothered me was that they told stories that were not age-appropriate and that that might be emotionally difficult. I could see that might be tricky to handle. Now I think I see them as rather worse than that, because they are promoting a certain image of what is acceptable young womanhood, and much of it is just based on looking good for the boys. 

I have to say Debbie isn’t as worried by this as I am. She thinks the trend towards little girls prettifying themselves is a fad that will disappear and be replaced by another trend. Me, I see sinister commercial forces behind it. What do you think?

Sabbatical, Day 37: In Between Reading, Some Links And Videos

Today, some odds and ends. In between reading some Clay Shirky, here are some links I’ve found.

John Martyn 
The official John Martyn website reports today that BBC4 will be repeating the one-hour Johnny Too Bad documentary, and by a half-hour solo acoustic performance from 1978. Dates and times for the documentary are Friday 20th March at 10:00 pm, Saturday 21st March at 1:20 am and Sunday 22nd March at 10:00 pm. The concert is being shown immediately after the Firday 20th documentary and immediately preceding the Saturday showing. It is not being broadcast on the Sunday.

Videos 
This video is doing the rounds of certain Christian blogs at present. N T Wright would be apoplectic in its denial of the physical and material in the afterlife. OK, don’t take it too seriously, but this is part of the problem with much populist Christian understanding of life after death:

(Via Parables of a Prodigal World and On Coffee.)

This one is popular, too. American comedian Louis CK interviewed by Conan O’Brien on the theme, ‘Everything’s amazing, nobody’s happy’. I watched this just after reading some more of Clay Shirky‘s book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ where he says that social change happens not once new technology is invented, but once is becomes ubiquitous. Louis talks more about how easily jaded we become with new tech:

(Via Collide Magazine and others.)

At least these are YouTube videos you can watch in the UK. From next Monday, UK viewers won’t be able to see premium music videos on the site.

Gospel 
David Wayne has a very pointed ‘failed Gospel tract‘.

Writing 
American pastor Mark Batterson on his rules for writing.

And that will have to do for today. I’m sure you’ll find something of interest somewhere in the abvoe.

 

Sabbatical, Day 34: Computer Troubles, The CT Scan, Christian Music And Animation

Recurring computer frustrations this morning. McAfee Security Center is trying my patience. Twice this week it has thrown up warnings, saying the PC isn’t protected. It invites you to click a button to fix the problems, and it doesn’t. Earlier in the week, it demanded uninstallation and an upgrade. That seemed a bit rich, given I was subscribed over a year in advance. That time and today, forcing a search for updates seemed to solve the problem. If it keeps misbehaving, I may write off what I’ve paid ahead of time and replace it with a  high quality free anti-virus offering such as Avast and the excellent if rather talkative firewall from Comodo.

The other sinner this week has been our Canon Pixma iP5200 printer. We keep getting documents printed without that rather crucial colour, black. And that’s a disadvantage with text! Each time, it’s the same fault. One of the two black cartridge nozzles needs cleaning. It has been an excellent workhorse, but I’m beginning to suspect built-in obsolescence. It’s three years old, and everyone knows manufacturers make little money from the printers themselves, cashing in on the inkjet cartridges. And in an economic model like that, the manufacturers are being pushed hard by the widespread availability of compatibles. What a ghastly parable of our whole creaking economic system.

…………

This afternoon began with the CT scan on my sinuses. Thanks to Olive for her lovely comment on yesterday’s post. It was a strange experience, different from what I was expecting. For a start, I was seen on time, so congratulations to the Radiology Department at Broomfield Hospital! I was taken from the main radiology waiting room to a separate CT scan waiting room.

Asked if I had any jewellery, I mentioned my watch and wedding ring, neither of which I had to remove anyway. And although they are both strictly jewellery, I never think of them that way. ‘Bling’ is not a word anyone who knows me would associate with me. The watch is a tool for a job, and the wedding ring is my visual aid to remind me wherever I am that I have the privilege of being married. 

The nurse also asked me if I had any questions, and I explained my main concern was with lying still on my back, given that’s the position in which I find it hardest to breathe – and ironically the reason why I was having the test. The appointment letter had said the procedure would last between ten and thirty minutes. However, if I was under the scanner for five minutes, that’s all it was. Sinuses are among their simpler cases, apparently – and thankfully!

Lying under the scanner, I had certain expectations of what would happen. I thought it would be one long, steady, slow pass through what the staff referred to as the ‘doughnut’. Actually, I went forward and backward two or three times in semi-jerky movements. The whirring, flashing ring reminded me of something from Star Trek, perhaps a glorified version of the sight gadget Geordi La Forge wore. (No, I’m not a Trekkie: I had to research the character’s name.) When it slowed down, it sounded like a tube train coming into a station. From Geordi La Forge to Underground Ernie, I guess. 

…………

I’m tired tonight, so nothing intellectually demanding. I’m reviewing some CDs for Cross Rhythms. Every couple of months, they send me four releases to write up, and the musical styles can vary greatly.

First off tonight, a compilation from the now defunct American girl-pop trio Zoegirl. It’s highly professional yet very derivative of other teen pop. Like Andy Crouch, I believe Christians should be Culture Making rather than culture copying. However, it does have the merit of lyrics that attempt to boost the self-esteem of teenage girls. I suspect the members of Zoegirl are utterly sincere Christians, working within a less than entirely honourable industry. Hits: Greatest Zoegirl is their third compilation since 2005. It came out last year, and there’s another comp of them being released next month! It’s hard to have kind words for an industry that behaves like that.

Currently playing while I’m typing is Hold On For Life by the Arkansas Gospel Mass Choir. Right now, I’m only seven tracks out of ten through a first listen, so any opinions now are highly provisional. It doesn’t break any new ground in the black gospel genre, either musically or lyrically, and some annoying pseudo-live sounds are overdubbed, but you can’t get over the extraordinary power and quality of those voices, and a great brass section. 

…………

I’m signing off tonight with an amazing piece of animation. A friend just sent me the link to Animator Vs Animation by Alan Becker. It’s an amazing treat.

Goodnight!

Sabbatical, Day 31: Links, Lent, Movies And Books

Before today’s news, here are some links. Let’s kick off with a survey. What kind of technology user are you? The Pew Internet and American Life Project has a quiz. I am an ‘ominvore‘. (Via the Comodo Monthly Insider email.)

The Evangelical Alliance has a resource launching on 5th March entitled ‘Square Mile‘. To quote their email:

Mercy: demonstrating God’s compassion to the poor
Influence: being salt and light in the public life of the community
Life Discipleship: equipping Christians for missional living as workers & neighbours
Evangelism: faithful and relevant communication of the gospel
Square Mile is an exciting initiative, designed to catalyse and equip the UK Church to take a truly integrated approach to mission in partnership with the Alliance and Community Mission.
Square Mile resources include a new DVD-based course designed for small groups, which explores these four areas of mission. Featuring insights from: Shane Claiborne, Mark Greene, J John, Tim Keller, Elaine Storkey, Jim Wallis and N.T. Wright, as well as examples of grassroots projects around the UK. A journal is also availabe containing daily readings, reflections and activities covering four weeks – ideally used alongside the DVD course.

Ruth Haley Barton has an article for the first week of Lent: Practising Repentance.

…………

If it isn’t one, then it’s the other. Mark went back to school today, and Rebekah was off sick. She had diarrhoea in the night and this morning. I’ll spare you further grisly details. 

Thus today I have been a teacher and an entertainer. Not that far removed from ministry, is it? I helped her with her reading, her spelling homework and her Maths game.

As a reward, we allowed her to paint a mug. Not one of our existing mugs, one that came in a box with paints and brushes. She has decorated a couple before, but I put the last one in the dishwasher and the paint began to peel. If everything King Midas touched turned to gold, most things I touch shatter into several pieces.

Either side of lunchtime, Debbie, Rebekah and I watched ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘ on DVD. It came out in 1968, and I saw it at the cinema first time around. If I didn’t feel old enough already, what with the fact that tomorrow I enter the final year of my forties, I felt even more decrepit remembering that fact.

As I watched it, I mused on this thought. Today, we are used to discussing serious themes in films. Organisations like Damaris Trust and others produce first class material to help in that matter. Usually, the movies chosen are not children’s titles. Yet Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has some simple ideas that would bear some exploration. Here are just a few. 

Career-wise, do you follow your dreams, imagination and creative talent, even into penury that affects you and your family, in the hope it will work out in the end, or do you just take a routine mundane job? (Caractacus Potts)

How do you deal with the fact that evil is sometimes blatant and other times disguised? (The Child Catcher)

How do you hang on in the face of evil while injustice reigns? (The villagers keep their children underground, not seeing the sun, while the Baron and his forces seek to eliminate children.)

Can you have successful marriages and relationships across wide socio-economic barriers? (Caractacus Potts doesn’t propose marriage to Truly Scrumptious until he realises his invention of Toot Sweets is going to make him wealthy, just as she is.)

…………

And finally, just a little tiny bit of sabbatical work today. Some of that was reading the terms and conditions for signing up to Survey Monkey. I’m glad I read these. I have to be very careful how I word emails in which I invite people to complete my survey, and include various items to avoid Survey Monkey deleting my account. Clearly they are protecting themselves against use by spammers. I have to include an ‘unsubscribe’ link and my snail-mail address. The problem with ‘ubsubscribe’ will be that I may not be using a mailing list full of individuals, so I’ll need to think of a way around that.

The other thing that has happened is this. You may recall my recent series of posts on The Starfish And The Spider. There was another similar book I also wanted to read. Well, at last, after several weeks on order and being number one in the queue to read it next, ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ by Clay Shirky found its way to North Melbourne Library today, and it is sitting on my desk at last. I had taken to reading something that is not sabbatical related, but which is thought-provoking on a general theme: ‘The God I Don’t Understand‘ by Chris Wright. I may need to return to that later now.

Sabbatical, Day 16

We thought Mark was getting better. He wasn’t. A persistent tummyache, followed by spectacular vomiting this afternoon has proved he still has a long way to go. So much for a twenty-four-hour bug.

Rebekah has also been struggling on and off with a headache over the weekend and today. Thankfully, it had disappeared by bedtime. Hopefully she is on the way up, and Mark will be before too long. It isn’t how they’d want to spend half term.

All of which means I haven’t done that much today. However, one theme of my sabbatical is meant to be about faith and technology. Really it’s bottom of the list, ‘do something on this if I have time’. Yet I’ve found more than one blogger (Brother Maynard was one of the most recent) point to an interesting article by Kevin Kelly called Amish Hackers. This is fascinating. Kelly debunks the popular image of the Amish as hostile to technology. The Old Order Amish may fit that image to a large degree, but it isn’t true of all Amish streams, he says. What does he say? Here are some important themes.

Firstly, the Amish tend to use technology without owning it. Someone who is part of the Amish community but who works outside (there isn’t enough work on all the farms for them all) may well hire a car or a taxi to get to and from work. There are even Amish websites, often put together in local libraries.

When I first read this, I thought it was a hypocritical stance: we don’t want to own something, but we want to get all the benefits. However, on reflection, I think they are trying to enshrine an important point. It’s the problem of possessions and idolatry. That which we possess often ends up possessing us. Have they found a way to guard against temptations to idolatry? Someone somewhere still has to own the car or computer, but they do seem to be onto something important. 

Secondly, their attitude to technology is not so much negative as cautious. They do not assume that new inventions are automatically bad. Instead, some Amish who are excited by an invention will go to their bishops and ask for permission to trial it. The bishops will often let them in order that the technology may be evaluated to see whether it would benefit the community. They have been trialling mobile phones since 1999, and the bishops could still say ‘no’. If the bishops do decide something would be harmful, the early adopters have to relinquish it.

What’s important about this? It’s the emphasis upon community, that much-overused-yet-sucked-of-its-meaning word in other Christian circles. The well-being (shalom?) of the community is paramount. Individual preferenes have to be subsumed to the church. The initial objection to cars a hundred years ago was about the danger of unbridled mobility in taking people away from enriching the local community: they would not shop locally or visit the sick on Sunday. I don’t think this is the way Marxism despises the individual in favour of the society to the point that people are but cogs in the machine, but it is a profound sense that we are not merely redeemed individuals, we are called into a redeemed community. 

As Kelly observes, we haven’t seen any evidence of widespread social relinquishment in broader society. He realises it isn’t simply about a mass boycott (we’ve seen them, albeit not generally permanent), but also mutual support. The Amish have a closeness of relationship in order to provide that, too. Social relinquishment is very difficult in a technological-consumerist society as ours, even in a recession. 

Not only that, there is a process of discernment going on here that goes beyond the wooden application of texts by some fundamentalists. You can query how long the bishops take to evaluate not only the usefulness but also the goodness of an invention, and it does – according to Kelly – put the Amish about fifty years behind the rest of society. However, this is a serious attempt to find the mind of Christ.

Have a look at the article for yourself. Do offer your comments here. I think it’s intriguing. Naturally, as a lover of technology, I think the Amish are too cautious, but my image of them has changed radically and I have to admire their profoundly Christian values that they bring to the subject. 

One last thing before signing off. Next week is my second trip as part of the sabbatical, when I shall be visiting Trinity College, Bristol to study ministry and personality type. I began dipping into one book I already have that touches on the subject, Knowing Me Knowing You by Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton. At the end of the introduction, they mention two books that have shaped their thinking: Prayer and Temperament by Chester P Michael and Marie C Norrisey and Personality Type And Religious Leadership by Roy M Oswald and Otto Kroeger. Goldsmith and Wharton’s book was published in 1993, so these other two titles will be older. Does anybody know them and are they any good? Michael and Norrisey’s book has two good reviews on Amazon, and seems to be written from a Catholic perspective. Likewise, Oswald and Kroeger get one five-star review. 

Does anyone know any other decent works in this field? Searching on Amazon uncovered Who We are is How We Pray: Matching Personality and Spirituality by Charles J Keating. It also found Prayer Life: How Your Personality Affects the Way You Pray by Pablo Martinez. However, while personality type and prayer is helpful and interesting, my primary focus is about ministry and leadership issues in relation to personality type. 

The course at Trinity uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as its basis, so work connected to that approach would be especially helpful. However, if you know material that comes from other approaches, particularly that of Hans Eysenck, I’d be quite interested, too.

I mentioned this theme before on Day 5 of the sabbatical, but didn’t make any particular appeal regarding literature, and it provoked some helpful comments, and Tess Giles recommended some reading on the Enneagram. However, this time I want to appeal a little more specifically regarding literature on the ministry and personality issue, especially looking at Myers Briggs, whether favourable or critical. Thanks for any help you can offer.

Sabbatical, Day 14

Valentine’s Day. Debbie and I had it all worked out. A nice day with the children, then we’d pack them off to bed at the usual time and share a Marks and Spencer’s meal. 

And the day started so well. The children had signed Valentine’s cards to Mummy. They had also jointly signed one to me. But then they derailed things.

For the better, I might add. This evening’s quiet meal somehow ended up off the agenda in favour of a family lunch trip to Pizza Hut. And since I had been away for five days until yesterday, I think a family meal out was probably the better option. Our romantic evening has instead become me clearing down hundreds of emails that arrived while I was away (no exaggeration – I’ve deleted four hundred) and Debbie doing the ironing.

However – in response to popular demand – well, one comment by Olive – here is some more information on what I sketched last night about ‘the life cycle of a congregation’. I don’t have time to rework this substantially, so what follows is simply a copy and paste from OpenOffice of the notes I made in Stephen Skuce‘s lecture. Therefore, please be aware that the structure of what follows is his, not mine. All that is mine is my attempt to record as faithfully as possible what he was sharing with us in the lecture. I went straight from this lecture to coffee and then drove home. There are some compelling parallels with a lot of church experience, but also some gaping holes, as he indicates in the section entitled ‘reflections’. But I hope they might lead to a useful debate in the comments below.

THE LIFE CYCLE OF A CONGREGATION

STEPHEN SKUCE

Understanding this helps us know where we are and help us diagnose what to do next. Various proponents can be found on the web, including George Bullard.

Western linear thinking – but much of life is cyclical.

Gene structure of a congregation (Bullard)

  1. E-factor is concerned with energising a congregation or group, such as a project within a congregation.

  2. P-factor is for programmes and schemes. A congregation that is to become stabilised and growing needs structures.

  3. A-factor is concerned with intentionality. The way a congregation expresses itself in mission statements, and how human and financial resources can be used efficiently. Specific goals, outcomes, plans.

  4. I-factor is concerned with inclusion. How are individuals and groups drawn in and assimilated into the congregation. How are factors like power and conflict handled?

Ascent scale of a life cycle

  1. Birth – high energy levels, organised around vision, or the charisma of the founder. So many ideas bubbling up they can’t cope. The need isn’t dreams and visions but needing to broaden the congregation in order to carry them all out. People are generally very unified in a church plant, because they have all chosen to be part of the project.

  2. Infancy – time scale of this move from 1 above is hugely variable. The high quality of personal relationships matches the enthusiasm. High level of inclusion immediately. Programmes not particularly developed or thought through: this is not a problem. One or two who were present at birth may have drifted away, however. Time needs spending to develop the sense of mission. Ministries start to develop – worship team, social caring project, etc. Distinct roles and places within the church, rather than stage 1 where everyone pitches in everywhere.

  3. Adolescence – energy levels high, focussed on development of congregation. Everyone busy. Early unrealistic idealism has been curtailed. Not completely seeing eye to eye over future direction any more, although not falling out. Early leaders from stage 1 are beginning to take a less active role. The church planters are moving off to start something else. Others have been burnt out already. Paid staff may burn out. Membership still needs to be broadened to cover a range of interests and different understandings of faith.

  4. Prime – by now comparatively a large and successful congregation with strong interaction between inner and outer members. Intentional and inclusive. Still working well for newcomers who join. A number of programmes, which are organised, visible and attractive. We are pastorally caring for one another. By this stage the danger of the dominance of one or more groups has started to emerge. Youth leaders and children’s leaders may conflict, for example. Separate roles become more important than the group identity. Starting to splinter. Conflict resolution skills need to be developed in order to keep things smooth. Overall the church still moves where it’s meant to be going. Visitors from elsewhere come to see good practice. Commitment levels and financial giving are both high.

Descent scale of a congregation

  1. Maturity – hard to distinguish from ‘prime’. The movement happens as soon as the repeat of good practice is desired. Comfort zone instead of risk-taking. Maintaining high standards mean that changes start to be questioned. Still a good welcome for newcomers, but those who are a little different don’t fit in so well. Church members very busy, just not quite so enthusiastic as they were before, because they’ve been busy for a long time. Members feel important and affirmed. Corporate vision of the church, e.g., mission statements begin to develop, even though they become an exercise in navel-gazing.

  2. Aristocracy – more like a club than a church. Busy but not energetic. People enjoy coming to meet their friends. They defend their positions and territory. Status and inclusiveness can be factor. Dwindling base of support as fewer newer and younger people join. Newer and enthusiastic members are not joining. Lost sense of mission. Nobody can recite mission statement, even if it’s on all the stationery. A need to restore God’s sense of purpose through the history of the church. What was our secret in the past, and can we recapture it?

  3. Bureaucracy – people are disillusioned and the good old days are no longer sought. If loads of kids turned up we wouldn’t have the leaders. People defend status. Boundaries. People are a bit suspicious of each other – why are you doing that? Several factors induce the suspicion, but the reasons are lost in the mists of time. Structures are rigid. Hope still exist if the silent or powerless can be heard. Change is possible with new leadership (not the minister, because that post has been changing, but rather the key lay leaders).

  4. Death – the congregation is all about preserving the past or the building. The building is of great historical importance and the community would miss it if it weren’t there. Despair about the congregation’s future – it’s not going to last but it’s going to last while I’m alive. A hospice church, allowing me to live out my life of faith in ways I like until I can die with dignity. No missional impact in the community. Doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. You can’t change the hospice church, where people are now so tired and old and can’t change that now. Alternatives for the building or mergers with other churches or circuits are considered. We kid ourselves we’re doing it for mission and growth, but we’re doing it to eke out another ten years of existence. Mergers are like two drunks staggering out of the pub at closing time, holding onto each other, but they can’t and they collapse to the ground. More chance if congregations are going to come together if all the premises are sold and something completely new built.

Reflections

  1. This may illustrate a relatively small congregation or groups and ministries within a large congregation.

  2. There is nothing inevitable about the growth or decline.

  3. It depends more on the spiritual leadership than on sociological factors.

  4. External factors, such as good or bad actions, can have a significant influence.

  5. The changes in the surrounding community are not included.

  6. Times of revival (as a God thing) are discounted in this analysis.

  7. Death is deserved if a church is apostate.

  8. What does the picture of the early church in Acts and more established congregations in Revelation 2-3 impact on this?

Bibliography

  • Bullard, G., ‘The Life Cycle Model’ www.bullardjournal.org. (2007)

  • Grundy, M., Understanding Congregations (London: Mowbray, 1998)

  • Saarinen, M. F., ‘The Life Cycle of a Congregation’ in Action Information (Alban Institute, May/June 1986)