Tag Archives: christianity

Generosity and Community

god52blog

This year I, along with many others, decided to throw myself into #God52,  A series of weekly challenges, instigated by Martin Saunders, aimed at shaking me out of my little bubble and getting closer to God, and others, in the process. Check it out here.

I was excited to take part. I was excited to see how God might break into my comfortable little world.

Then Martin delivered the first challenge: radical generosity and I got scared. I started thinking of all sorts of excuses that would prevent me from having to give my time or money to other people: I don’t have any time to help people; my wife has just had a new baby and that needs to be my focus; We just have enough money to get by and giving more would put us into the red.

That familiar little voice in my head danced and laughed as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t complete this challenge (and probably not any of the others). I felt defeated. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.

What was it that scared me so much? Why was my first reaction to doubt myself and spend time creating excuses not to participate? I realised that generosity scared me because it required me to invest time in others.

I remember being struck a few years ago about a fresh interpretation of the beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

I’d always found that saying odd. Why should anyone be happy when they mourn?

But in order to mourn, you have to have been close to something. If you mourn over someone, it means you invested time in them; you chose to give something of yourself to them. You can only mourn if you’ve chosen to step out of your little world and engage with something bigger than yourself.

It’s the same with generosity. In order to be generous, I have to connect with others. I have to put my interests behind the interests of others.

So I resolve to be radically generous this week. I resolve to enter into the lives of others. I resolve to follow the example of the Triune God: an ever-giving, ever-loving community.

Will you?

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Advent and the Coming of The X-Factor

This morning I was reading Martin Saunders blog about “why life is too short to watch The X-Factor“. The X-Factor has become a staple on television sets all over the world and there are many complex reasons as to why people choose to watch it year after year (Martin has given a good overview of some of those reasons).

As I read the post it got me thinking about how TV programmes, like The X-factor,are replacing the common seasons of the church calendar and what this tells us about our culture.

For millennia, civilizations have used calendars to find a rhythm and flow to the year. Whether it be the calendar of the seasons in agriculture or the life of Jesus in the Christian religion, we all use calendars, and their significant dates, to find meaning and purpose in the year. Key dates help to remind us of our place in the world and to look forward to the future.

In the UK, we have largely followed the Christian calendar, with a few extras, for centuries. Advent prepares us for Christmas; New Years Eve helps us take stock of the last year and set our eyes on the coming year; Lent reminds us of our failures and the coming of new life and Easter allows us to celebrate the new hope we have in Christ. The Christian calendar has been the overarching story we have found ourselves in year after year but with shows like the X-Factor, I’m noticing a change in this trend.

Rather than following the environmental seasons or the landmarks in the Christian calendar, we now seem to be using TV shows as our gauge of where we are in the year. I’ve heard it said by several people that when The X-Factor starts you know that the countdown to Christmas has begun and for many the Christmas season officially starts when they see the Coca Cola “holidays are coming” advert. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this a negative thing. Our Christian calendar is made up of a number of pagan festivals that Christianity subverted so it would be disingenuous to say that this is all bad news. A better response would be to see what this change means for our calendar and for our culture.

The seasonal calendar (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is used as a way of survival. It helps those working in agriculture to know when to sow and when to reap. The Jewish calendar reminds Jews of their story and their place in it. The Christian calendar follows a similar structure as it helps us enter into the story of Christ. But what does this new calendar offer us? What story does it tell?

The traditional calendars mentioned above create community. They give us space to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The new calendar, made up of The X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, Big Brother and the Coca Cola Advert also offer these but their foundation is built on consumerism and consumption. This new calendar has been created by corporations with one goal: to get us to spend money. Rather than inspiring and captivating us, the TV calendar restricts our imagination, forcing us to become vapid consumers. Instead of giving us space to to lament and remind us of our connection to the rest of the world, it forces us down the road of individualism.

We are better than this. There is a better story than this. Yes, we can  celebrate the fact that The X-Factor at its best brings people together and showcases new talent. But at its worst it turns us into mindless consumers who care more about who goes ‘out’ each week than our neighbour struggling next door.

If we allow this consumerist story to take centre stage of our year; if we allow it to define and control us then we lose the very essence of the core Christian calendar (and the other calendars before it)…

Ourselves.

That’s the Gospel? Really?

The 3rd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.

I am really enjoying the liturgy in the Church of England we are attending. It’s something I found missing in other churches. For me, using liturgy helps me to find my role in the unfolding story of God. There is a flow and a rhythm to the service. We explicitly hear each week of the work that Jesus did in on the cross. It’s important to be reminded of that.

But it also leaves me asking the question, “is that all the gospel is?”

Each week we hear that we are sinful people, heading for hell but because of the cross we are rescued and get to go to heaven.

I’m not against that reading of the gospel. But I don’t think that serves up the whole picture of the gospel. I don’t think that covers everything that’s going on.

This reading reduces everything to a binary transaction. We are the problem, Jesus is the solution.

What of the creation narrative, the Abrahamic covenant, the mosaic covenant? What about the life of Jesus? What about our lives, right here, right now?

None of this matters if we hold to this basic view of the gospel.

Being a “liberal”, I don’t believe that the sole point of the gospel is for Jesus to rescue us from hell and take us to heaven. For me the gospel is the reconciliation of all things. It is freedom from oppression and injustice. It is longing for the Kingdom to come and for Gods will to be done on earth (Familiar words aren’t they?”

I believe that I am saved from something but also saved for something. I am to be a blessing to all people. I have to hold out and hold on to the living word. I care about this world, and its inhabitants, as I believe God cares about it.

The gospel is the proclamation that, through the Son, a new world order is breaking out in the midst of the old one. The gospel challenges us to be heaven bringers rather than heaven goers.

So yes, I believe that through the cross we have been ransomed, rescued and redeemed.

But that’s just part of the picture.

A Step of Faith…

For those that have read any number of my posts, it is probably clear that I do not hold a conservative view when it comes to the Christian faith.

Now, I am not one for labels as I find there only use is to reduce and flatten people to a series of dogmatic statements. I would never define my theology as liberal because of that. I say it only so you can get a sense of where I am coming from. When I studied at bible college, the New Testament lecturer labelled me a heretic. It was good to see that in bible college there was an openness to dialogue and debate (that last sentence was sarcastic).

I’ll be honest and say that my last position, as youth worker for a conservative baptist church, was a difficult one. Many judgements about who I was because of what I believe were made.

We have since moved and as a family we have started attending a small anglican community church. A few weeks ago I went out to the pub with a few of the other folks from the church and through the various discussions, it became clear that the leadership of the church would be, what I term, conservative. Again, I want to be careful with that label.

This sent my mind racing. Can we be part of this church? What happens when I express my supposedly unorthodox views of sexuality, adam and eve, hell, atonement, swearing, horror movies etc? Will we be thrown out? Should we even bother building relationships with people who have such opposing views to ourselves?

We are still at the church.

After several discussions with my wife, it became clear that I was making the same errors in judgement that I felt some of the congregation of the Baptist Church had been guilty of. I was labelling people. And more than that, I was dismissing people because of these labels. I had flattened these people into a label.

I do not want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only hangs around with those who share a similar view point; who make judgements on someone because of the views they hold.

So I’m taking a step of faith. My family and I are taking a step of faith. We are going to invest in this church. We are going to seek truth together. We are going to fellowship with one another.

And I hope I can become more like Jesus in the process.

How Successful have I been?

I wrote a whole post answering whether I felt the youth work I have been involved in over the last two years has been successful. I got to the end of the post, read it back and deleted it.

Something didn’t seem right about it.

And the truth is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Christian youth work. Yes we can use the questions I proposed in the last post and (kind of) measure if the young people we are working with are developing, moving on, making christ-like decisions but I’m not sure that’s the point.

I guess it depends on the type of work you’re involved in. When I think about our youth fellowship and our house groups, it is hard to evaluate them.

I look at the work that Jesus was involved in. He got to the end of his two/ three years (there’s debate as to how long it actually was) and what had he achieved? If we evaluate the work, what had he really done? The twelve he had worked with had mostly deserted him. On the face of it, that looks pretty poor. If in two months, when I move on from the church, there are no young people there to say goodbye, no young people left in the church, I’ll feel like I’ve failed.

I wonder what Jesus thought as he hung there on the cross. I wonder what he thought of his work?

I worry about the work I’m leaving behind. I worry about the young people. I worry about the church.

But at some point, I just have to trust. I have to trust that God is not finished with him. I have to tell myself that “I’m not Jesus”. I’m not their saviour. I guess that’s why I started writing about evaluation in the first place. I was scared that maybe I’d achieved nothing. That everything I’d done had been for nothing.

And without God, it would all be for nothing.

But there’s God. And I need to trust in that.

Success in Youth Work

 

How do you measure success in Christian youth work?

It’s a difficult question isn’t it?

I’m finishing up as youth worker for South Beach Baptist Church in two months and so I’ve been reflecting on these questions. Sometimes reflecting on how successful your youth work has been is like reflecting on whether you’re a good parent. ie it’s difficult.

One day things can be going great and the young people seem to be connecting but then the following day they have completely changed. It’s as if the Body snatchers have come and switched them.

The youth work website infed.org is a great source of articles around the practice of youth work. In one article, effective youth work is described in this way:

(youth work) has three main goals. To increase the ability of young people to:

  • identify and develop their capacities- physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social and emotional;
  • identify and accept their responsibilities, as individuals, citizens, group members;
  • evaluate the contexts in which they live and act accordingly.

Success in Christian youth work, I believe, can be measured in this way:

Are your young people becoming more Christ-like? Are they, by their words and actions, reflecting the character of Jesus? And do they own that christ-likeness? Does their faith depend on you being there to teach them?

That in essence, in my opinion, is how success in Christian youth work should be measured.

In my next post I’ll talk about whether I feel I have been successful in my time at the church.

Thoughts? Do you agree or have I missed something vital?

“Alien” and the subjective reading of our faith

I watched “Alien” for the first time on Monday night. I really enjoyed it.

I had tried to watch it a few years ago but, from what I remember, it was pretty late and I got bored and decided to go to bed instead.

Our enjoyment of a film is entirely relative. It is based on a whole number of factors: time of day, how the day has been, how we’re feeling etc. The first time I attempted to watch “Alien” it was late and I was tired so I found the film boring. When I watched it this week, I didn’t find it boring. There is no objective way to watch “Alien”. It is based entirely on our subjective viewing of it.

There are many films that i can watch at one time or another and not enjoy, then watch it at another time and really enjoy.

I would argue that most of our life is based on our subjective readings. I don’t think that’s a new or radical idea. But I think to be aware of it, changes everything.

As a christian, my experience of God, the bible and faith in its entirety is subjective. I believe that God is an objective reality but I view God subjectively. The writers of the bible wrote subjectively about an objective God. We read the bible subjectively. We cannot read it objectively. Our reading of the bible is affected by how we are feeling that day, where we are born, our personality type etc etc.

Again, this is nothing new but I find it amazing how quickly many of us are to forget this.

The 5th commandment given to Moses on Sinai was:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” or “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. A valid interpretation of the original hebrew would be “do not carry lightly the Lords name“.

When I was a child my view of God was affected by the boring church I was dragged to every Sunday morning and the boring talks of our school chaplain. They carried Gods name lightly. They told boring stories that bored all of us. Their theology may have been ‘right’ but it certainly was not captivating. As Christians, how we act and speak will influence the subjective viewing of God for others. 

As a church youth worker, I may be the only ‘voice’ of God to the young people I encounter. How I speak of God will influence their view of God. How I treat them will influence their view of God. How I “carry Gods name” will affect how they view God. That’s a big responsibility.

Now we can hope and trust that God will use others to speak subjectively about the objective reality of God but that only helps to cleanse our conscience. That’s a ‘get out jail’ free card to make us feel better. We are the church. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the walking embodiment of the Eucharist

How we carry the name of God, in word and actions, matter.

Draw Something About Slavery

Everyone, including me, seems to be hooked on the new app, “draw something“. it is number one on both the free and paid apps charts in app store. In its first five weeks, it was downloaded 20 million times. Move over Angry Birds!

The app involves drawing a picture, from a choice of 3 (easy, medium, hard), and then sending it to someone else to guess. It’s the mobile equivalent of ‘pictionary’ and its incredibly addictive (at least for the first couple of weeks).

I woke up this morning to find reminders for 17 drawings that I was still to guess. 17 drawings! And the thing is, if you manage to get that list down to 0, which will take you a good half hour, as you draw the final drawing, someone will then send you another one to do.

For someone who needs all their jobs to be done, for things to be neat and tidy and to have no unread e-mails in their inbox, this is a nightmare. It is a game that you will never finish. There will always be another drawing to guess or draw.

It’s so easy to become a slave to something isn’t it?

Whether it be facebook, twitter, an app, or some other social construct, we always end up becoming its slave. It seems to be built into our DNA. Maybe we just like something controlling us. Maybe it gives us a sense of purpose, an identity, something to be part of.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Paul was on to something wasn’t he?

What are we, or our young people enslaved by? What do we constantly need to feed?

Part of the joy of the season of Lent is to remind ourselves that we are not slaves anymore, that we have been set free.

What do you need to be set free of today?

Why Do We Encourage Our Young People to Pray Out Loud?

 

Traditions fascinate me.

For many of us, we do things without really thinking why. It’s just the way we’ve always done it.

In church, traditions are even more apparent.

But I want to know why. Why is it that we do things a certain way?

Take prayer for example. As a teenage I was encouraged to pray out loud. That this was some kind of ‘badge of honour’ that showed  you were a real christian.

In my current place of work, I also try to encourage young people to pray out loud.

But why?

It seems to me that asking young people to pray out loud really has nothing to do with prayer at all. If it really was to do with prayer then we wouldn’t ask our young people to pray out loud. Why should we pray out loud? Does it make a difference? Doesn’t God hear it anyway?

Praying out loud is more about affirmation. Affirmation for the prayer(er) and affirmation for the hearer.

We affirm the one praying is doing a good job and we affirm the listener because more than likely they have asked for a prayer request.

Corpororate ‘out loud’ prayer then is more about us than God.

Would you agree? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

 

The Story of Film

The world is a narrative.

Our lives are a narrative.

We are all part of one global narrative that is unfolding day by day. One global ensemble film.

It is no surprise then that films reflect the ongoing narrative of our world.

We can tell a lot about our world by the kinds of films that are being made.

Mark Cousins’ ‘the story of film‘, in either it’s written or TV form, is an expansive history of the narrative of film in the world. It beautifully conveys the overarching narratives in film and how they directly correlate to moments in history.

As someone who is deeply passionate about film and culture, I enjoy analysing these connections and I want to begin a series looking at different periods in the worlds story and how films reflect that. Using that as a basis, I then want to connect that into current youth work practice.

GENRE #1: FOUND FOOTAGE NARRATIVES

Found footage “is a genre of film making, especially horror, in which all or a substantial part of a film is presented as discovered film or video recordings, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists.[1][2][3] The events on screen are seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, who often speaks off screen. Filming may be done by the actors themselves as they recite their lines, and shaky camera work is often employed for realism. While the genre dates back at least as far as 1980s Cannibal Holocaust, it was popularised after the release of such films as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).”

Now one can simply say that the reason for the sheer quantity of these types of narratives in recent years is a financial one. They are cheap to make. Simple. And in one sense that is true. But the question that must then be asked is, “why are they so popular?” Let me offer a couple of thoughts.

Since 9/11 the news has been filled with images and scenes from ordinary cameras; from members of the public. We have grown accustomed to shaky cam footage of war and other atrocities. Social media outlets like youtube, facebook and twitter, and the rise of the smart phone have allowed the general public to document the news as it happens. It has become part of our culture. It is embedded in our psyche. We associate shaky cam footage with reality; authenticity. Also, the rise of reality shows, beginning with Big Brother in 2000, also demonstrates our obsession with, so-called, reality.

And studios and filmmakers are well aware of this. It seems obvious then that in order to make films appear more real and authentic, they are made as found footage films. Shot on lo-fi tech they seem to produce reality. But, as we are all aware, they are not. ‘reality’ and ‘authenticity’ in film is simply a technique. It is a means to an end. It is just as superficial green or blue screens and special FX.

We want authenticity. We want to be transported from our real worlds and pry on someone elses. We want to snoop on other peoples lives. We see real footage on the news all the time and we want that in the cinema too.

Maybe, we’ve had enough of superficiality. We want to believe in something. We do not want to be conned anymore (although we still are).

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think, for youthworkers, this is both exciting and challenging.

Through this genre of film, we can empower young people to tell their story. It has never been easier for young people to make a film and showcase it online to friends and family. This is an area we should be exploiting (if that is the correct phrase) in our youth work.

Secondly, we need to make sure that we are being truly authentic in our relationships. “Found footage’ films appear to be real but they’re not and we can pretend to care about young people and their welfare but in reality we might not. The rise of scripted reality dramas like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ are a worrying trend because I believe they may be even more manipulative than ‘found footage’ films.

What is our agenda in youth work? Are we happy to get to know young people and that be the goal, or are we always trying to push them towards something?

What are your motives in youth work?