Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less, Give More

"Maybe Christmas doesn't need to be different, but I need to be different."

This is always a good time of year to visit Advent Conspiracy, as a reminder that we don't have to let consumer capitalism write the script for Christmas.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New story, old url: the Telegraph and the Bishop of Greater London

May the Farce Be With You: there was a brief flutter this morning over a Telegraph story headlined 'Bishops Condemn CofE over Cinema Advert'.

If you visit the story now, you'll see that the headline and article have completely changed, but the url hasn't. The Bishops in question in the original (you only need 2 to make a plural) were Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, who wasn't criticising the CofE at all (which the new article recognises), and the 'Bishop of Greater London', who is nothing to do with the Church of England, Here's a bit about his 'Open Episcopal Church', though his work seems to be as more of a freelance celebrant and campaigner. He doesn't seem that keen on the Lords Prayer either, which is odd for a bishop.

Credit to the Telegraph for correcting the story, but not much for posting it in the first place. It almost looked like an informal competition with the Sun for most misleading headline of the week.

The whole business does raise the interesting question of DIY clergy titles. What other clergy with impressive titles are lurking out there, waiting to be uncovered? If the CofE missed Greater London, what other parts of the UK could be ripe for episcopal/ceremonial recognition? It could be quite a lucrative trade, the ecclesiastical equivalent of personalised number plates. Canon Precentor of Marks and Spencer? Pioneer Archdeacon of Helvellyn? The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells could be a proper title at last, with the added bonus of getting quoted by national newspapers looking for a headline.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A New 'Nooma' ? - Great meditation on Thankfulness

Once upon a time lots of people got very excited about Rob Bells 'Nooma' DVDs, at the time a new and clever way to communicate. They're still worth a look:

There are now Christian DVDs everywhere, but these have grabbed me recently. A local church is doing a series on '7 life-changing habits', here's the clip for 'Thankfulness', and each theme comes with an accompanying pdf for personal or small group use.

"we are already the richest and most well-developed generation in history, and yet we are also the most in debt, medicated, depressed, overweight, stressed-out, addicted generation in history."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Star Wars Ad Agency: No Force Please We're Squeamish

'Lord Prayer cinema ad ban' runs the BBC headline. As one Twitter correspondent pointed out this morning, it isn't. The ad agency which handles cinema advertising has refused to run the CofE's Lords Prayer video before showings of Star Wars, because it "could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith"

So, millions of people go to see a film about an all-pervading supernatural force, and they'll get upset about a shorter film about an all-pervading supernatural force. Run that past me again?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Downton Abbey: Why His Grace has Gone Missing

God's absence from Downton Abbey was noted a couple of years ago, but it turns out it was more by design than by accident. The historical advisor to the show told the Telegraph earlier this week that DA bent over backwards to keep God out of it. On the absence of a mealtime 'grace':
“In essence you hardly ever see a table that isn’t already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace being said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace.
“I think that the view was that we’d leave religion out of it, and it would’ve taken extra time too. I suggested a Latin grace, but they decided that was too far, and no one would’ve known what was going on.”
Mr Bruce said that he was even banned from featuring napkins folded in the shape of a bishop’s mitre, for fear of breaching the religious edict. “Everyone panics when you try to do anything religious on the telly,”
The US screening of the show even looked at leaving out the word 'Abbey' from the title. So you leave out a prayer of thanks, but call the dog Isis.....
It's ironic that the very article which broke this story writes this about the Christmas episode: The feature-length yuletide edition will be the show’s last ever episode, ... though to be fair it does use the word 'Christmas' too. 
Even though the stories are usually fake, it's no surprise that  'Christmas banned by local council in....' gains such traction and is believed by so many people. If you can't screen a prayer on a Sunday night costume drama, when can you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New Yeovil Counselling Service

Counselling4Yeovil is a Christian organisation offering affordable professional counselling in Yeovil to people of any or no faith. We aim to communicate our unconditional acceptance and valuing of each person we work with and to respect each person's right to make their own decisions about how to live.

We developed from Yeovil Pregnancy Crisis Centre which has been counselling women in Yeovil since 2007 on issues surrounding pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion and infant death. We continue to offer a free counselling service to women and their partners dealing with these issues.

Website here.

A much needed new service, NHS mental health services are way past full stretch, and that is as true in Yeovil and South Somerset as anywhere else. There are some good ideas around - e.g. the 'Triangle of Care' - but mental health is currently an area where voluntary, community and private healthcare groups are needed to fill the holes in the safety net.

Counselling4Yeovil has a team of fully qualified counsellors, and though it has a Christian basis, it's open to people of any faith position, and aims to make counselling available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sham 'Consultation' on Sunday Trading

What was the point? The government has (thankfully) shelved plans to liberalise Sunday trading after the SNP made it clear they'd vote against. A shared day of rest is likely to be one of the first casualties of EVEL, but for now workers, families, charities and communities get a reprieve.

What's obvious is that the so-called consultation held by the government on its plans to reform the law was a complete waste of space.

The prime minister's official spokeswoman said the next steps would await analysis of the results of a consultation and be made clear "in due course"

So the initial plans, which have been 'parked', were going to happen before the consultation results were in and analysed. The consultation is a pointless exercise, because the government hasn't even bothered to listen to it, it's only the 20 or so Conservative MPs who made it clear they'd vote against that's forced the U-turn.

Either have participative democracy, or be honest that you're railroading things through no matter what people think or what you promised before the election, and save everyone a bit of time and money. Today it's the sheer dishonesty of the process that annoys me. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fake Christmas

In what may just be a bizarre coincidence, the first Fake Shop in the UK opened in Yeovil recently. At the same time, the front page of the local paper, the Western Gazette, ran with the visit of the 'famous Coca-Cola Christmas truck'. No, me neither. A drink featuring a waste gas, an artificial stimulant, and unhealthy quantities of sugar, all dissolved in a freely available natural resource and sold back to us as a desirable product. If the truck actually parked in the Fake Shop, that would be a prophetic statement about Christmas worthy of Banksy.

In other news, you're more likely to find an Advent calendar with a dog in a silly costume than one with a picture of Jesus. Dog rest ye merry gentlemen.

Milton Jones: comedians and Christians are dealing with the same stuff

Good interview with comedian Milton Jones at the very excellent LICC website:

Comedians are well-known for mocking religion; do you think Christianity and comedy can happily coexist?

It’s easy to see the church as a sort of bullied boy in the playground that won’t fight back. But God is big enough to take criticism or take a joke. There’s something pretty insecure about feeling the need to do God’s work or protect him. I did do a video a little while ago about the weirdness of Christianity, but honestly within comedy people don’t actually hate Christianity. They hate two-dimensional reactionary Christianity, but there’s actually quite a softness towards ‘thinking’ Christianity. Comedy is full of people who used to go to church but couldn’t quite go along with the whole package because it was too jingoistic. I know a heck of a lot of people in comedy whose parents were clergy or missionaries. Ultimately a lot of comedy is dealing with the truth, about life and what it’s all about. The same is true of faith.

Monday, November 09, 2015

'Break the Cycle' - Doctor Who's sermon on Matthew 6 and the Iraq war.

Doctor Who usually peaks around Remembrance Day. This year is no exception, the following dialogue from Saturdays episode (starts from about 32 mins in, full section from 30m 22s). It's a cracking script & dialogue, covering war, forgiveness, repentance, Iraq, pride, sin, you name it. The Doctor is in blue, 'Zygella' the adversary in red, trying to justify her actions... 

It’s not fair

Oh it’s not fair, oh I didn’t realise that, it’s not fair! You know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.

The things don’t equate

These things have happened Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, who’ll be cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive...why don’t you break the cycle.

Why should we?

What is it that you actually want?


Ah, right! And when this war is over, when you have a homeland free from humans (insert own personal enemies here) what do you think it’s going to be like? You know, have you thought about it, have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses, are people going to work, will there be holidays? Oh, will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? who’s going to make the violins? Well? Oh, You don’t actually know do you? Because like every other tantrumming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want.  

So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when its all perfect and just an fair, when you have finally got It exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you, the troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one.

We’ll win

Oh will you? Well maybe… maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long, the wheel just keeps on turning, so come on, break the cycle.

… when you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered. How much blood will be spilt before everyone has to do what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning – sit down and talk! … listen to me, listen, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It's just a fancy word for changing your mind.

I will not change my mind

Then you will die stupid. Alternatively, you could step away..

..No, I’m not stopping this you think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done

You’re all the same you screaming kids, you know that? 'Look at me, I’m unforgiveable', well here’s the unforeseeable – I forgive you. After all you’ve done. I forgive you. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Talking About Jesus - Would It Be Better If We Didn't?

Talking Jesus this week published a survey of just over 2500 'normal' people and 1500 Christians. The findings are going to General Synod later this month.

Here are the questions the research was trying to get at:
What do people in this nation know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or further away?

The work was a joint project between the CofE, Evangelical Alliance, and other Christian agencies. Some of the findings:
 - 40% of the general population believe the Bible is God's word
 - 60% think Jesus really existed, 25% of under-35s think he is a fictional character
 - 21% think he was God, the majority believe Jesus was a spiritual leader/normal human being
 - just over 40% think Jesus was raised from the dead

A key focus of the survey was evangelism, how Christians are seen and how we share (or don't share) our faith:
- 2/3 of people know a 'practising Christian', and 60% of them enjoy that persons company. That means 40% don't/didn't know
- When asked to describe their Christian friend/acquaintance, positive characterstics scored much higher than negative ones (hooray!) - caring, friendly, generous, good-humoured were all about 5x more common than hypocritical, narrow minded, uptight and foolish.

Here's the really worrying bit: the majority of Christians feel comfortable to some degree in talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to do so, and have done so in the last month. But as for the fruits.....
 More than half of English non-Christians who know a Christian (58%) have had a conversation with them about Jesus. Younger adults 18 to 34 (61%) are somewhat more likely than adults over 35 (54%) to report having had such a conversation. Two out of every five non-Christians say evangelism made them glad not to be a Christian (42%). Another two in five don’t know how they felt about it (42%), while only 16 per cent felt sad, after the conversation about Jesus, that they did not share the Christian’s faith. 

 When Christians talk about Jesus, the response is mixed. One in five non-Christians say they, after such a conversation, felt open to an experience or encounter with Jesus. But almost half say they were not open to such an experience (49%) and six in 10 didn’t want to know more about Jesus (59%). One in five did want to know more (19%); 16 per cent felt sad that they did not share the Christian’s faith; nearly one-quarter felt more positive about Jesus (23%) or felt closer to the Christian with whom they had the conversation (26%).

Whilst Christians who share their faith feel positive about having done so, the clear majority of those on the receiving end are turned off Christian faith, and the one telling them about it, by the experience. Christians think that the effects of their talking about Jesus is positive, but that's not what most of their hearers think. 

The recommendations from the survey don't reflect any of this. They pick up on some of the positives (that there are millions who believe Jesus was real, was God and rose from the dead, but haven't joined the dots, that Christians are generally seen in a positive light), but there is nothing that addresses our inability to share our faith in a helpful way in the majority of cases. Though the full report mentions a goal of (enabling) Christians to have millions more sensitive, positive, culturally-relevant conversations about Jesus that could be deeply effective in evangelism, I don't actually see anything that explores what sensitivity and cultural relevance look like. 

For many Christians, talking with a friend about their faith and about Jesus is a key part of their journey into faith. Sadly it sounds like for many non-Christians, such a conversation could also be a key part of their journeying away from faith. The solution is not to stop talking about Jesus, but to find out how to do it well, in a sensitive and relevant way.

There are many encouraging findings in the report, but I wish that there was a bit more engagement with the discouraging ones. I'm with Andrew Brown - there's no point encouraging more of us to talk about Jesus if we're not doing it very well. It's very helpful research, and the powerpoint summaries are really useful, but there's no point doing the research if we ignore one of the key findings. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Your Church Wedding: new upgraded website

The excellent Your Church Wedding website from the CofE has just had a reboot, to make it more mobile/tablet-friendly

Nicely put together, readable, the sections look bite-sized rather than essay length, and the visuals are good. Whoever put this together, as well as the new Church of England Christenings site, gets a big well done. A very helpful resource for couples, clergy and local churches.