Tag Archives: theology

Youthwork Summit Talk

In May, Marc Williamson and myself had the privilege to speak at the national youth workers conference, “The Youthwork Summit” in London on “The Kingdom of God in 5 films”.

You can watch the talk here

The System has failed us! More musings on the Dark Knight Rises

SPOILERS AHEAD

What do we do when the system fails us?

I believe it’s a question that is at the heart of the Nolans’ Dark Knight trilogy but one that the films fail to answer.

For Bruce Wayne, the system that is set up to protect the people of Gotham has failed and he becomes Batman to rectify that. He removes himself from the system and becomes a vigilante. But as I’ve discussed in my previous post, he doesn’t succeed. Batman is part of the problem. It is because of him that the violence escalates. Gotham is worse off because of Batman.

Raz A’Ghul in Batman Begins also believes that the system has failed but his response is to burn Gotham to the ground and start over. He believes that a fresh start is the answer. But we can all hopefully agree that this is not the way to do it.

At the end of The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILER) John Blake also believes that the system has failed and takes the drastic step to follow in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.

The films are full of people for whom the system has failed. But what is their response? Work outside the system? Destroy the system? None of these ultimately work.

So what’s the alternative?

It’s a question I’m not sure I have the answer to yet but I want to continue the discussion. As a youth worker, I feel these are important questions to chat through with young people.

We live in a corrupted world in which the system has failed us. MPs, police officers, bankers and the church have all let us down. How do we respond?

How do you respond? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Ying and Yang: The Dark Knight and his villains

SPOILERS

I know a number of people who were disappointed with the character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Some had issues with his voice but many felt he had no presence and paled in comparison with the Joker.

One reviewer complained that Bane was too similar to Batman.

I think that was the point. I believe that Bane is the yang to Batmans ying (just as the Joker was). Bane is what Batman could have been had he chosen to follow the league of shadows.

Film critic, Mark Kermode made this interesting comparsion. Batman wears a mask and has his mouth in his full view but Bane has his mouth covered and his face in full view. They are opposites. They are versions of each other.

I think that’s the great thing about the villains in these Batman films. Each of them are versions of Batman. Each of them are what Batman could have been.

We cannot change many of the situations and events that we encounter in our lives. Both Batman and Bane ended up in the pit. But we can change how we react to those events. Batman chose one path and Bane chose a different one.

How will you deal with the situations that you come face to face with today?

 

 

Violence in The Dark Knight Rises

It’s always the same.

Every time an atrocious incident takes place (eg the Colorado shootings) films are blamed. Many people have come out to complain about “The Dark Knight Rises” and how it is responsible for corrupting minds with its violence.

On the website, “red letter christians” there is an article about the link between the shootings and the film and towards the end of the article, the writer says this:

“It is truly a tragedy when 12 people are killed by a deeply senseless act of violence. It is also a tragedy when the human mind is molded to enjoy and celebrate similar acts of violence on the big screen.”

What the writer seems completely unaware of is that in Nolans’ series of Batman films, the filmmakers are keen to state that it is because of Batmans violence that more violence takes place. The violence in the Dark Knight series escalates because of Batman himself.

If there were no Batman there would be no Joker, there would be no Bane and there would be no (spoiler) Talia Al’Ghul. These people exist because of Batman. The Joker strikes Gotham to show Batman that every one of us will be come a blood thirsty murderer if pushed far enough. Bane and Talia want to destroy Gotham because Batman killed Raz Al’Ghul.

These films demonstrate the circular nature of violence. These films are not pro-violence.

This is a great message to discuss with young people.

Where does violence take us? Does it really get us anywhere?

In fact, the only way that evil is dealt with in these films is through sacrifice. It is Harvey Dents supposed sacrifice (really Batmans) in the Dark Knight that leads to the Dent Act that removes criminals from the streets and it is Batmans sacrifice at the end of the Dark Knight Rises that brings victory.

The Batman films, rather than promote violence, shine a light on its fallacy and show that the myth of redemptive violence leads us straight to the pits of Bane’s hell.

Learning from your Enemies

Krish Kandiah has a blog post up about how Tom Wright ( N.T. Wright) is the christian equivalent of marmite.

In the article he raises this point:

“For some of my friends its all or nothing with the theologians they like. There’s a tick list – a writer needs to tick the boxes on a number of issues in order to have anything to contribute to a conversation.”

I think it’s a fair point. When I studied for my BA in Youth work with Applied Theology, there was a clear split between those who preferred Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll. As if somehow by liking one you automatically had to hate the other. It became very tribal.

People like to be part of a tribe and its very easy to have a tribal mentality. When someone attacks what you makes you ‘you’, it is in your best interest to fight it. You want to defend your beliefs as you feel its a personal attack against your identity.

For me though, I think its a little different. I can happily listen to those that I disagree with- to a point. I imagine its the same for most people. We all have buttons or ‘no go areas’. There are convictions that we hold that cannot be pushed and its not always necessarily to do with theology.

For instance I will have nothing to do with Mark Driscoll or Martin Luther. I will not read what they’ve written or take any time to listen to their views.

Why?

Because they both, in my opinion (and it is just an opinion) have a very abusive view of women. Martin Luther once said, “women are the gateway to hell”. Driscoll famously has said, and i paraphrase here, that since the husband is the head of the household, if he wants anal sex, he gets anal sex.

Those are worldviews that those men hold that I cannot get around and its not simply a case of removing those remarks when I come to look at them. I cannot come to a text of Driscolls or Luthers and ignore what they’ve said. Those remarks infect everything that they have to say. It is behind everything that they have to say.

Krish suggests that he can learn from any flawed person and I commend him for that. But I cannot do that.

Let’s imagine Hitler wrote some great literature. I could not sit down and read any of it without thinking “this man had over 6 million people killed”. I cannot just conclude that he’s a flawed human and get past his actions. They are what makes him. It is part of who he is.

Now I’m not comparing the actions of Driscoll or Luther to Hitler. But…if we believe, as many say, that all sin is the same and that sin by its definition is anything that causes a breakdown in relationship with either ourselves, others or God then maybe its perfectly acceptable to do so.

So, over to you. Does any of this make sense? Do you think this is helpful or is there some way of getting past your convictions in order to learn from people like this?

45 Reasons Why You Should Come to the Youthwork Summit in May

The Youthwork summit isn’t for everyone. We know that. But it is for some people. Check out our list of the sorts of people who should come to the 2012 summit – and see if any of these categories include you…
1. Employed youth workers –because you’re going to hear more than 30 people share big ideas, dreams and visions about the future of youth ministry.

2. Volunteer youth leaders –because we’ve got some practical talks to help you build your youth work toolkit – from using film to understanding mental health issues.

3. Church leaders– because we’re passionate about whole-church youth ministry and good line management. We’ve got Andy Hickford coming to talk about exactly that.

4. Parents– because you’ll hear the truth about what’s really going on in your teenager’s lives – from the proliferation of adult content, to the positive and negative effects of music.

5. Christians in statutory youth work– because our talks aren’t only relevant to those of us working in church contexts – for instance we’ll help you understand the teenage brain, think through the influence of youth language, and explore your own creativity.

6. Comedy fans– because we’ve got Tim Vine coming. And don’t worry – he’s coming to tell jokes. A lot of them.

7. Arty creative types – because Jamie Treadwell is going to help you to unleash your God-given creativity in every area of your life and work.

8. Tired people – because we’ve asked 40-year youth ministry veteran Les Comee to talk to you about how ‘letting go’ can help you rediscover the energy you’ve lost.

9. Big Picture strategists – because we’re bringing youth ministry consultant and coach Mark Oestreicher over a day early to help you think about the vision behind your youth ministry.

10. Evangelicals – because many of the speakers are.

11. Non-Evangelicals – because many of the speakers are.

12. Bad singers –because we’re going to be bringing together many of the youth work community’s ‘finest’ crooners for our early-day ‘Curryoke’ event.

13. Curry fanatics – because ‘Curryoke’ wouldn’t make much sense otherwise.

14. Wannabe beat poets – becausewe’ve got the reigning European Poetry Slam champion, Harry Baker, performing live.

15. People who like coffee – because our incredibly generous friends at Starbucks are again providing free coffee all day for everyone!

16. People who don’t like coffee– because there’s also tea.

17. Schools workers– because we’ll be filling you in on the new ‘School Pastors’ scheme, exploring how mentoring makes a difference, and looking in depth at the culture your young people live in.

18. People with ears– because our House Band – the incredible Rend Collective Experiment are back, and bigger than ever before, with London youth choir Walk da Walk in tow.

19. Youth ministry teams – because you will hear so many new ideas – you’ll want to implement some of them. Come and listen together – then use the breaks to figure out how this stuff is going to work in practice.

20. Young leaders– because they’ll love the pace of the day, the focus on big ideas, and the fact that many of our speakers are young leaders themselves.

21. Hip Hop connoisseurs – becausewe’ve got the MOBO-winning Guvna B performing live, and explaining how gospel music can reach young people.

22. People who owned ‘Powerpack’ – becauseBob Moffett, author of the first youth ministry resource known to man, will be taking part in our early evening session.

23. Southerners – because frankly this year, you’ve got no excuse

24. Northerners – because last year all the Southerners came up your way.

25. Midlanders – because you simply can’t wait until May 18th 2013.

26. Theology buffs – because we’ve got Dr Conrad Gempf and his planet-sized brain, delivering massive revelations in bite sized chunks.

27. Student workers – because Miriam Swaffield is going to fire you up about making the transition from youth group to university life without losing faith.

28. Students – because you’ll hear big ideas at the cutting edge of youth ministry – and get more great essay quotes than you could ever need.

29. Manga fans – because ‘Manga Bible’ creator Siku will be on-hand to tell us about his groundbreaking new project.

30. Babies – because for the first time, we’re going to run a parent and baby room with a video relay.

31. Church treasurers – because you should see how well your £30 has been spent.

32. People stuck in a rut – because hearing scores of new ideas will jolt your ministry into a whole new lease of life.

33.Youthwork magazine readers – becauseyou’ll hear some of the best-loved contributors from 21 years of the magazine, from John Allan and Pip Wilson to the founding father himself, John Buckeridge.

34. PCC and church committee members – because you’ll gain priceless insight into why your youth workers are so passionate – and why they desperately need your support.

35. People who feel isolated – because you’ll get an amazing opportunity to meet over a thousand youth workers who share your passion for God and for young people, as we’ll give you purpose-built opportunities to network with them.

36. Activists – because you’ll hear from world-changers like Patrick Regan and Emad, an Egyptian youth worker who has ministered to teenagers through the Arab Spring.

37. Contemplators – becausewe’ve asked Catholic pioneer Avril Baigent to help you to practically explore the Spiritual Disciplines with young people.

38. Film nuts – because Steven Mitchell and Marc Williamson are going to present the best five movies to help you talk to young people about the Kingdom of God.

39. Future speakers – because at least six of this year’s contributors have previously attended the Summit as a delegate.

40. Fans of The Blobs – because Blob tree creator Pip Wilson will be in the house, which from previous experience means anything could happen.

41. People who care – becauseyou’ll hear first hand the story of Layla, a teenager who’s life in the care system has been hugely impacted for the better by the influence Christian youth workers.

42. People who are feeling old – becausewe’ve gathered together a wise ‘council of the elders’ to look both forwards and back, dreaming together about how youth ministry might learn the lessons of the
last three decades.

43. Tech-heads – becausenot only will Twitter again be awash with live summit micro-blogging, you’ll also get an incredible demonstration of new technology previously only seen within the boundaries of NASA.

44. Happy Campers – because if you’re staying overnight at London School of Theology, you can take advantage of our super-cheap accomodation option.

45. Belgians* – because YWS welcomes delegates from beyond this Sceptred Isle. Last year we had visitors from Brazil, Japan and Germany. Who’s coming in 2012?

*Other nationalities also very welcome

Your Dream Home

Nobody quite does graphic satirical horror like the Chinese (well maybe the Japanese. And the Koreans.)

‘Dream Home’ follows the story of Cheng Li-sheung as she looks to finally invest in her dream home. A home that she has wanted since she was a little girl. A home that she promised to her gran and papa. A home that will make everything okay. We all know what happens with best laid plans though. The deal falls through as the sellers want more money. At her wits end, and her obsession with owning the flat pushed to breaking point, Li-sheung embarks on a horrific killing spree in order to bring the price of the flat down.

Very dark stuff.

When watching the film I was reminded of these words of Jesus: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul”. There are a number of translations and interpretations of these words. What exactly does it mean to gain the world? What does it mean to forfeit/lose your soul/life?

For me, to lose your soul/ life, means to lose what it means to be human. To become sub-human. To lose the essence of your humanity.

Desmond Tutu once said; “We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia, in peace.” So when we distort that fellowship, when we break it down through the abuse or murder of other humans, we become less than human.

If you can stomach it, Cheng Li-sheungs journey is the journey of losing her soul. For her, a possession becomes more important than the life of others: both strangers and family members. The potential flat holds so many hopes and dreams. She thinks it will be the answer to all her problems. And we can’t really blame her for thinking that. The culture around her has pushed this idea on to her. Now obviously what she does we cannot condone but we can understand how she gets to this place of desperation.

And she gets what she wants. With the blood of eleven people on her hands: she gets what she wants. And in the final moments of the film, after moving into the flat, she hears on the radio of the economic meltdown and the housing collapse. It has all been futile. the flat she has just bought is now worth less than half what she paid for it. A satirical final moment in this modern day parable.

What do we long to possess? What do we think will make our lives better?  And what are we willing to do to get it? Where do these narratives and messages come from and how can we stand up against them?

Pressing questions in the world we find ourselves in right now.

How do we define Christianity?

I read this on JR Daniel Kirk’s blog and found it really helpful and inspiring.

In a previous post he talked about how problematic using a theological statement (like a creed) is  to define what a Christian truly is. It makes faith very static and turns it into a list of rules rather than a relationship.

Here is the Nicene Creed as an example:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Is that what defines a Christian? What if, as I do, we read through that and do not agree with everything that is written? Does that make us not a Christian?

This type of understanding is known as bounded set theology. A second way of understanding Christian identity is what is known as a centred set and is defined below”

“…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.

It is a relational category. Our Christianity is defined by how close out relationship is to Jesus. Some days we may be close to the centre and other days we may be further away.

Sometimes, by what we say and what we do, we are closely identified by Jesus and at other times we are not.

This makes so much more sense to my understanding of what a Christian is.

Christianity should not be understood as a series of rules that we need to adhere to inorder to be “in”, rather it should be defined as a relationship with God.

In the same way, Christians should not be defined as those who adhere to a set of rules but by their relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we are closer to Jesus and sometimes we are far away but we are always ‘in christ’.

Youth workers, do you agree? If so, how do we communicate this to the young people we work with?

My Mistakes in Youth Work #36

I have a BA in youth work with applied theology from ICC (international Christian College).

At college we were encouraged to debate different views and interpretations. For three years that’s what I did. Discussed, questioned, argued, disagreed. And it was ok. It was ok to disagree over theology and doctrine. Because that’s what you were there to do.

But then you finish college and get a job as youth worker in a church.

You work with people who haven’t been given that freedom to discuss, challenge and disagree. And when you bring an idea that they haven’t heard before or you choose to work by the ethos “give them all the views and help them make an informed choice” they scream heretic and tell the pastor you’re poisoning the young people with unbiblical views.

Since i started in my post last August, that’s happened to me twice. By the second time it was really beginning to wear on me.

The thing is, at college they don’t prepare you for this. They don’t prepare you to have discussions with people who have only ever believed one interpretation and think any other is heresy.

The truth is, lots of people disagree and have different views but they just don’t share them.

But i’m not like that.

My mistake was wanting to debate with those who disagreed me but that only made things worse.

So what to do?

After some reflection and prayer I found a solution. We were always going to disagree on certain aspects of theology but they weren’t important. Within the Christian faith (and any faith I suppose) there are certain fundamentals that need to be held and then there is other doctrine that people can have different views on and that’s okay. We talked about what we did agree on and that helped to show that we were both starting from the same page.

And for the last few months there has been no cries of heresy! No worries about my leadership.

I’m sure other issues will arise but what I’ve learned is to focus more on the things we do agree on than the things we don’t. Focus on what brings us together rather than what tears us apart.

I hope I never forget that lesson.

Should Christians Be Causing More Chaos?

I watched “The Dark Knight” again last night and I am still pretty much in awe of it. Both as a film and as a series of ideas, of which there are many.dark_knight_ver4

This time around what I was most intrigued by was the Joker’s conversation with Harvey ‘Two Face’ in the hospital. He said, and I paraphase slightly, that when things go according to plan, everything is fine. People Don’t react. But when you don’t follow the plan, you bring about chaos.

Christians, by there very focus on the hope of the Resurrection and the eventual return of Christ and the merging of Heaven with Earth do not follow the plan of the world. We see things differently.

Should we then be causing more chaos?

As a youth worker seeking to discuss with young people the hope of Jesus, should I be encouraging them to cause more chaos by the way they act?

To the point, is there such a thing as good chaos?