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Nous like scouse or ? French -oui? Wee, whee, we all the way ... to mind us a bunch of thunks. Too much information? How could that be?



Updated: 2018-01-12T12:21:07.274+00:00

 



Chaplaincy: secular and global ministry?

2018-01-12T12:21:07.294+00:00

I was recently asked how I thought about chaplaincy as a Christian minister given the secular context, multifaith nature and impacts of globalisation. This was my response. Perhaps I should remind readers that I'm in Britain working as a chaplain in a university and we work within a framework of human rights legislation particularly equality and diversity.It’s not quite right to say that chaplaincy is a statutory requirement for equality –although it seems that most HEIs interpret it in a way that chaplaincy seems to be a main way to try to address the appearance of religion (including non-belief) as a protected characteristic.I’m also keen to question the terms ‘secular’ and ‘secularisation’. It is often seen as a bad thing but we should recall that some of the impetus for it grows out of the European religious wars following the Reformation –it became evident that moving religion (indeed, in the fullness of time any strong ideology) away from absolute power moved it away from the apparently strong temptations to murder opponents. One of the things about the Baptist and many other non-conformists is that, as people who were mostly persecuted, they have a strong ethos of separation of religion and state and of religious tolerance –it is interesting to note that the oft-persecuted Shi’ite Muslims tend in the same direction. In addition to this practical response to abuse of power by religious agents (and later by agents of ‘secular’ ideologies) there are theological reasons for supporting secularism at least of a certain kind. I’d note here the distinction between hard and soft secularism and I’d making a theological case for the latter. Hard secularism is a way to characterise anti-religious ideology –the immediate aftermath of the French revolution is an extreme example: the replacement of a religious ideology of governance by anti-religious. Hard secularism can be more tolerant than that: modern France and Turkey operate hard secular regimes (in theory) by excluding all religious expression from the public sphere (government, education, publicly owned space etc –hence debates about hijab-wearing or crosses on classroom walls). Soft secularism (in theory the state of India) recognises that people come into the public sphere with religious identities and commitments and rather than excluding them, seeks to be impartial about their claims (perhaps the USA is this too) and to make sure that they don’t become co-ercive.I think that latter approach can be defended theologically. The idea of doing as you’d be done by in Jesus’ teaching seems to indicate that if we would like the right to practice our faith, we advocate for all to have that right –even those who are our ‘enemies’. If we want to be able to commend our faith to others, we must allow them the same privilege. Furthermore, as I read the teaching of Christ and of Paul I find a scepticism about religion particularly where it becomes a legalistic thing (and state religion has to be legalistic –by definition). I’m also interested to note that in the first chapters of Genesis the duty of humanity is to tend creation and there is no temple. The impetus towards religiosity flows from the conversation with the serpent and its aftermath. So I’m in favour of trying to help the churches to think about secular life as the arena of Christian mission and effort: our tending of creation and society is our religion. Chaplaincy might be a way to help promote this insight among the churches.This impacts on chaplaincy in several ways in my view. One is to alert us to our own faith’s impetus towards treating others hospitably, with dignity and to do so particularly when they are in some way our ‘enemy’ (that is, they oppose us or what we stand for). This does not mean downplaying our distinctive message and its challenge to consider Christ as the one to be followed, it means doing that in a way that is appropriate and respects the humanity and dignity of others.At its best an organisation’s policies and systems are ways to[...]



Social susceptibility: Leader-follower dynamics

2018-01-03T09:50:02.594+00:00

A little while back I was teaching  a class about leadership and introduced, to some surprise by the class, the notion of followership as being an important factor in thinking about leadership. I feel that this piece of research underlines the importance of thinking about that aspect of the 'system' in which leadership is exercised.

"the social susceptibility of the population majority -- and not the influence of key individuals -- is what drives leadership"

Admittedly, in this case, the research was about spiders, but it looks like the underlying dynamics would probably be true in human societies because it's a matter of whether and how 'leadership' can be exercised in contexts that may or may not be receptive to it.

Interestingly, and what doesn't seem to be picked up in the commentary for comment (perhaps it's accepted wisdom), is that in situations of stress it seems that 'strong' 'bold' leaders do carry influence in a much more direct way. I think that the political implications of that are clear, assuming they pan out into human societies -and I think they do.

Perhaps one of the implications that bears emphasis, though, would be that to strive to steer human societies towards security (rather than precarity) is likely to enhance democracy and co-operative behaviour.

Social susceptibility: Leader-follower dynamics of influential individuals in a social group -- ScienceDaily:  'via Blog this'



Lower class wiser about interpersonal conflict than middle class

2018-01-03T09:19:02.983+00:00

I think this is really interesting and, at one level, not surprising:

 "Driven by economic scarcity, these individuals will consider the impact of their decisions on those around them and those with whom they have interdependent relationships. Characteristics of open-mindedness and integrating different perspectives are necessary in order to coordinate with others and share resources."
What I'm wondering further is whether this relates to result of the research that tends to show that wealthier individuals drive in an 'entitled' way and generally show less consideration for others in everyday public life. The article seems to indicate that perhaps the answer might be 'yes'. Perhaps this relates too to Christian faith's historic appeal to the poorer members of society and their allies.



Lower class wiser about interpersonal conflict than middle class -- ScienceDaily:' via Blog this'



Seven Stories: How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible

2018-01-02T16:26:26.512+00:00

One of the characteristics of this book is to take Rene Girard's scapegoat theory of human culture and violence as disclosive and helpful for hermeneutics.If the mainspring of the Bible is not the legal weight of each word but a progressive engine of disclosure, overturning a root human condition, then we are discovering a radically new hermeneutics. One which provokes human transformation. (p.26)As I am a little more skeptical about Girard* nowadays, I was interested to see whether one really had to commit to that package in order to find this useful or not. Or whether it could be that the insights can be accepted without the whole package.The book is set out as a resource for groups or class-work and is designed attractively from a typographic point of view -though not so easily read on screen in the pdf format I had access to, I trust that this will be addressed by suitable formatting for e-book versions in due course. Part of the course-book nature of the volume shows up at the end of each chapter where there are discussion questions and personal questions. I did wonder whether those ought to be the other way round: to encourage readers to be honest and in touch with their own history and responses before entering a group situation. Also, each chapter begins with aims and key points as well as a heads-up for key terms. Good educational practice.The parts dealing with hermeneutics are set out clearly and succinctly which is no mean feat, I think. I was at first surprised by the basic laying out of the canon of scripture but as I saw it was done comparatively including the RC and Orthodox canons I began to see the point -it gently de-absolutises some approaches to reading scripture by raising implicit questions about why some of us can be so fierce about things which have a little bit of contingency about them -and what does that do to our considering scripture to be God-breathed? -Obviously I'm not going into that here and neither does this book, but it is important to dwell on it before coming over all crusader.We also have a useful and equally succinct  primer in atonement theories (possibly one of the best I've seen in this respect), and again this can have the effect of encouraging more considered discourse on what Jesus's Ministry, Cross and Raising achieve. This section helps us to see the way that culture relates to plausibility and tends to assist in the foregrounding of particular theological motifs. Again we need to develop a healthy sense of contingency about such things, not to dispose of them but to be able to make use of them (or not) wisely in the service of God's mission. One of the things it notes in presenting these theories is the role that violence plays in the motif, hinting at how that can, in turn, give subliminal permission to populations, rulers or church polities to endorse the use of violence.There is a brief outline  of the development of the the doctrine of penal substitionary atonement (PSA) which is again helfpful not least in reminding us that the term 'hilasterion' used in Paul is 'mercy seat', that is a place where mercy is found. It also notes that there is not a developed doctrine in Paul, merely metaphor and allusion.The introduction to Girard's take on violence in human society is very clearly done and again briefly; a great service to the reader. The re-presentation of the Hapiru (=Hebrews) as a class rather than a race is a fair idea and worth putting out there in this regard. This enables us to appreciate reading the text of scripture as a sedimentation of revelation of divine love struggling against the violent defaults of human thinking and its projection onto the divine. This calls us to attend to the whole fabric of scripture and the deep -structures or divine drumbeat of love, resisted as it is by the vested interests of violently upheld power and wealth.For those who have already been thinking a lot about non-violence, the gospel and Christian peacemaking, there is probably little [...]



Mind Your Life -a review

2017-12-29T19:37:22.863+00:00

There are things that warmed me to this book before I even read it: I was pleased that the author, Meg Salter, had learned to 'do mindfulness' in everyday life -some of it rather busy and ordinary- rather than by going away on retreats. I was interested too by Meg's coaching background in relation to this, intuitively feeling that this could potentially form a helpful alliance with mindfulness in the everyday; not least because there is a feeling of kinship between that and some of the spiritual direction work I do.The book reads very calmly and seems likely to suit real novices in the mindfulness 'game'. It doesn't take much for granted and explains fairly carefully what is involved and -importantly in my view- why. There's a good explanation of what mindfulness exercises are intended to do and this is cross-referenced implicitly by including some helpfully selected first-person pieces from a variety of ordinary practitioners. There is also a well-distilled and presented case made for the potential benefits which doesn't overpromise but rather simply presents the evidence.For myself, as someone who leads mindfulness meditation sessions, I found different takes on familiar things and some potentially helpful exercises or ways to do them which may benefit me and those I regularly give examples to by leading them through exercises.What I really appreciate about this book is the careful descriptions of exercises from the point of view of experience and what it may be like. It is well observed, at least it seems so from my subjectivity, and helpful in the detail at each point even though a number of exercises are the same basic thing simply run through different sensory modalities, yet the differences are captured and enable the 'translations' to be better calibrated, so to say.There's also an interesting set of exercises on noticing the endings of things that we have in our sensorium and this is used as a further set of exercises towards transcendence. This is really intriguing and worth pursuing.All in all, I'd say that this book is likely to be useful to people starting out in meditation and mindfulness as well as having enriching things to offer to those, like me, with some experience. It's the kind of book to be kept around as a kind of workbook and reference book, perhaps alongside a journal.Mind Your Life on AmazonMeg Salter’s WebsiteMeg Salter on FacebookMeg Salter on Twitter#MindYourLifeMind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience & Reveal Your Extraordinary: Just so you know: I received this book free from the author and publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.'via Blog this'[...]



Jesus learning from life and practice

2017-12-16T16:19:54.076+00:00

Over the last few months, this passage has cropped up several times. The latest being this morning's readings (I started writing this on 14 December) for Morning Prayer. Perhaps noticing it has been an artefact of a particular reading of it having got my attention and that perspective sinking in and being weighed by my unconscious thought processes. So the passage is this."...a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26 He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly."      Matthew 15:21-28 NRSVA - The Canaanite Woman’s Faith - Jesus - Bible Gateway: And the perspective on reading it is as follows.This way of understanding it proposes that we take it that Jesus learns from the woman in the course of the conversation and that we are actually seeing him in this little narrative moving from a somewhat ethnocentric mindset to one which explicitly grasps that God's Mission is bigger than that. In short, we see Jesus in the process of learning during the course of this conversation and his teacher is the Canaanite woman and, presumably, the Holy Spirit (echoes of the Nicene Creed there).Now it seems to me that the Evangelical knee-jerk reaction to this (and maybe not just Evangelicals) is to be very suspicious of it or to reject it outright. I know this because my own first reaction was precisely to be suspicious of it and I found that I had to ask myself why I was resisting the idea. To be fair, full disclosure here, the reason I asked myself what that resistance was about was because I found the idea somehow intriguing and maybe that was because I'm interested in how learning takes place and what it means to be a wise and faithful human in the way of Christ, believing that it is in the moments of challenge that learning is forged and wisdom and orientation tested. So I was perhaps more disposed than before to thinking about the humanity of Jesus in relation to how he learnt things. And I have to say that in the moment, I felt that there was something wonderful about the possibility that we were catching Jesus in the act of learning. In fact perhaps participating in one of those wonderful conversations that I'm sure most of us have from time to time where we get caught up with others in a slightly excited thinking together as each contribution opens out further insight, learning and application of something that enthuses us. I wonder whether we are seeing a snapshot of Jesus enjoying just such learning banter.So, I think that focus on divinity is precisely where the resistance from many roughly-orthodox Christians comes. I suspect that thinking first about his divinity (or even as a hugely gifted sage, come to that) tends to set us up for a default perspective that assumes that Jesus had got it all together, that he always saw things coming and had a ready-composed response or was meticulously inspired in the moment. But that is almost-certainly some kind of Docetism (see this article for more theological background). It is worth asking ourselves, too, whether for some of us there could be an inner resistance formed by the idea that it is unworthy for Jesus to learn from a gentile woman. However, I think that part of the marvellousness of the episode lies just there: that so[...]



Physical presence and social media

2017-12-10T12:01:26.278+00:00

The article referred to underlying the title text is about why some scientists are postulating that smell may be implicated in autism. However, for me the new learning was that we do, in fact, subliminally process smells from each other that we can't consciously notice:

Although this sense [smell] is not our primary sense, as it is in many other mammals, we still subliminally read and react to certain odors. For example "smelling fear," even if we cannot consciously detect its odor, is something we may do without thinking... this is a form of social communication...
So, one of the things that this led me to was the thought that this may be a factor in why it is that we often think that church should involve face-to-face meeting: something about bonding and responding to each other in physical proximity is actually biologically important.

This is not to say no aspect of church and fellowship should be done any other way than by physical presence. After all, swathes of the New Testament are actually the remnants of first century social media -fellowship at a distance via letters and Roman roads. However, it should help us to value the dimension of physical presence.

What this article doesn't really go into is the effects of other kinds of subliminal smelling -assuming that there may be pheromones (I'm assuming that's what we're talking about here -but happy to be informed more fully) for enjoyment or other kinds of general affect. There is mention of hexadecanol in relation to calmness, so I guess there is something in this.

Of course, the other thing we need to notice is that this study is related to autism -and seems to suggest that those with ASDs may misinterpret these chemical signals. So that's a matter for us to consider in working out, as churches, how better to include them.

A further surprise was that
Research in recent years has turned up smell receptors like those in our nasal passages in all sorts of other places in our bodies -- from our brains to our uteri.
Intriguing eh?

Autism and the smell of fear: Odors that carry social cues seem to affect volunteers on the autism spectrum differently -- ScienceDaily

'via Blog this'



Neighbour-love means pushing back against discrimination

2017-12-10T10:54:59.383+00:00

Just to be clear that discrimination is a Christian issue -that is one which Christians should be concerned about and actively resisting. This research finding:

 "when an individual experiences discrimination, they report worse health and depression. ... -- this stress spills over and affects the health of their partner as well"
means that by the imperatives of loving neighbour, doing to others as we'd have them do to us, seeking the welfare of our society and even going second miles, we must actively work, speak and think against discrimination. We can't be loving our neighbour (etc) if we allow discrimination, fail to consider how we can push against it or how we can include and affirm others who are different. The research is showing clearly that discrimination causes actual harm to health. This isn't simply a matter of stiffupperlipping (a prescription usually applied to others, btw) but of serving others, seeking the good of others which is the least of what loving our neighbours means.

Just saying.

Discrimination harms your health, and your partner's, study shows -- ScienceDaily:

'via Blog this'



Evolving Advent

2017-12-06T11:50:33.314+00:00

Advent has had a varied history. Sometimes in some places it's been a 40 day preparation season a bit like Lent. Sometimes it's been about a week. At some point it started to be thought of as the Church's new year. At some point it gained in the West the form of a 4 Sundays before Christmas season of preparation -with the penitential feel that tended to go along with Lent. The idea was that Christmas began on the night before Christmas day. I won't go into the details, there's Wikipedia for that!However, it seems to me that it is difficult for the season to be kept in that way in the contemporary west without is being seen as killjoys and legalists. This is because in the popular psyche, Christmas begins before 25 December -which is felt to be the culmination of the feast. As a child, I can remember thinking that the 12 days of Christmas were the previous 12 days not the following ones. That was logical: you'd end up on the most important day with the most gifts!So, as I have written before, I think we should re-configure how we approach (metaphorically and chronologically) Christmas. Now might be a time to start sketching out ideas as we go through things this year with a view to beginning to change things next time aroundSuggestion the first. Let's start the preparation sooner. I'd suggest after remembrance tide; so about two weeks into November -this would roughly coincide with a Celtic Advent which was 40 days prior to the Nativity. However, I'd suggest that the preparation season be staged and take account of the new Kingdom season -which is essentially November, ending with the final Sunday of November (Christ the King). I'd suggest that from mid November to mid December a time of relative fasting be considered -perhaps in the style of Muslim Ramadan where some feasting is woven in and then a couple of weeks before Christmas this would ease off.Suggestion the second. Some marking and staging of the preparatory weeks: Lets have an Advent wreath of seven or eight candles, each to be lit on each Sunday progressively (there are those menorah-like candle-stands from Scandinavia, perhaps, to draft into service, eh?). And this might enable us to fix a current problem with the four/five Advent candles thing: the 'traditional' themes of the candles don't fit the lectionary readings for their respective Sundays. So we could do with a rethink of that, probably by tying in the candles to the respective Sunday themes -and writing prayers and little songs to fit that. For much of the Church of England this candle-lighting stuff is only about a generation old anyway: it hardly counts as hoary tradition, in reality and we have no canonical oughtage driving this: it's purely churches liking to 'beef up' the seasonality (perhaps responding to the Advent calendar's popularity). So let's take back control from unthinking antiquarianism and make the nice little liturgical additions serve well rather than pulling in another direction.Suggestion the third. Liturgical colours. Let's face it, the use of red for Kingdomtide is more about differentiating from Advent which was using purple when in fact Kingdomtide's themes would more naturally lend themselves to purple (or black even). So how about, by recognising the increasingly 'feasty' nature of things as December progresses, we perhaps started to use red in Advent, or perhaps the last couple of weeks before Christmas day? That would free us up to use purple in November. Maybe we might even stage things like this: black for the first couple of weeks of November; purple next and finally in the last run up to Christmas, red. Perhaps we might fancy returning to using blue like used to happen before Roman canonical conformity interfered: Black>blue>purple (imperial colour for Christ the King?)>red. Maybe we could colour our candles accordingly?[...]



Sleep Walking into a War

2017-12-01T18:41:59.200+00:00

The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” -This quote (By Garry Kasparov, originally) from an article by Tobias Stone – in Medium. It seemed to me that it's worth highlighting because it is insightful about what is happening now on the internet particularly social media.

I think it's interesting because it parallels a tactic that governments and corporations seem to operate in relation to pushing through measures that they sense will garner much opposition: they throw loads of information out, make a song and a dance about relatively minor things so that by the time a bigger issue is brought out, opposing voices are muted and energies are sapped. And of course this can work because populations have become passive, soporific and take democracy for granted, forgetting that its price is eternal vigilance. The problem being that eternal vigilance is costly in effort and attention, especially when life is hard, as it is increasingly for our populations.

And then, the other useful thing to note about this is that this is the new war. If war is politics by other means, then disinformation and distraction is politics by other means and that too is war. Actual bombs-and-deaths war is part of the picture but a relatively small part.

So, I'm left wondering what this means for war resistance. It goes way beyond refusing to fight, it goes beyond making the case for resolving conflicts through diplomacy, pressure and legalities. It goes beyond building the capacity of communities to use tactics and discipline to overcome oppression non-violently. No, we are going to have to learn to build capacity for 'eternal vigilance' and for myth busting and understanding what the real issues are to keep an eye on without being obfuscated into obscure and ultimately irrelevant matters.

And I'm already feeling tired just thinking about it. So, how to move forward?



Sleep Walking into a War – Tobias Stone – Medium:



'via Blog this'



App map vs paper map

2017-11-30T19:12:06.413+00:00

Now I quite like app maps for some things: they can map out a route more quickly and help you to follow it and they don't tend to blow away in the wind. I'm a bit of a technophile and generally defend e-versions of 'apps'. So I will tell others why I don't do paper diaries and why I prefer e-books on the whole (even while quite agreeing that new books often smell nice).



But I do have to say that I am more evenly balanced about the merits and demerits of app-maps and paper maps. For the reasons set out in this article (see end of post), I do tend still to use paper maps: I tend to like to have a better sense of orientation that the paper versions give -not least because I see more in peripheral vision. The other thing is that the battery life of the paper version is rarely in doubt!



Why I always travel with a paper map in hand : TreeHugger:



'via Blog this'



Big church, little church and cultural fit

2017-11-04T11:16:12.244+00:00

Recently I happened to be talking with one of my bishops and we  both noted how smaller churches tend to show up in studies as being better at making disciples than big churches. This Psephizo post, by implication, tells us why, and re-tells us the advantages of large churches. Interestingly, of course, the downsides of big churches are to be addressed in the post by also giving them a small church dimension. This is the top-down version of things. Of course, it might be worth noting that the NT seems if anything to have a bottom-up version where lots of small churches are locally linked. That may be simply expediency; what number can you get in someone's front room. Big church only becomes possible when Christians are able to have big public buildings without attracting adverse attention. What we don't get in scripture is any instructions about sizes of gatherings or congregations. I find this interesting -some other religions do tend to have regs about such things. Jewish minyan, for example and Islam has instructions for people to shove up into proper neat rows to fill from the front at prayers. But Christianity has very little that isn't just general and arguably about local custom and making-do. So if you don't buy the Catholic Tradition thing, there is plenty of scope for adaptation and that includes church size.I don't have any 'primary' theological objections to large churches (but I do have 'secondary problematisations'). But I do question them. As mentioned above, they would seem to be less good, proportionally, at making disciples. This is probably because they can carry way more 'passengers' -and this means that in effect they may be more likely to evade the priesthood of all believers and have a 'priesthood' of the specially talented (I could say more about that because 'talent' is more circumstantial than sometimes implied). As the blogpost says, "It always seems odd to me that the excellence of a cathedral choir is lauded as enabling encounter with the transcendence of God, but an excellent band set-up with professional lighting and sound is sniffed at" -that is a well-made point with which I agree: I can't really see anything but taste differentiating the two kinds of worship referenced. However, that may miss the point: it's still a small group of 'stars' and the question may be as to how far we want to ape or promote a kind of celebrity culture with its attendant disabling of more 'ordinary' ministry. The obverse of that is also the promotion of certain kinds of ministry to a status that can also restrict the imagination and valuation of 'ordinary' Christians with regard to their own gifts and callings. A salutary lesson in this being the change at the Reformation from having 'a pope in Rome to a pope in the pulpit' -the result being that we still had a passive followership. Today perhaps it has become a 'magisterium on the stage' -as if musical talent or a good voice gave moral authority? (And that goes for both scenarios).What really got me writing this post was the following in the Psephizo post:It is easy, then, to miss the virtues of scale that large churches represent. It is much easier for one person to invest the time, energy and resources to offer a really engaging sermon that digs deep into the Scriptures and draws out, with relevant application, the lessons for living in contemporary for 400 people, than for eight preachers to do this for people meeting in groups of 50. In a church will feels pressed for resources, the efficiency of large churches is not to be sniffed at.  And I agree at one level but want to dig behind this more. I want to ask whether it might not be even better that there might be 8 preachers learning their craft and offering a more realistic role model?[...]



Surge pricing goes universal: some effects

2017-06-04T10:20:19.071+01:00

Here's something I learnt today in an article which definitely deserves pondering by those concerned with culture, social justice and keeping an eye on corporate tactics.In 1861 a shopkeeper in Philadelphia revolutionised the retail industry. John Wanamaker, who opened his department store in a Quaker district of the city, introduced price tags for his goods, along with the high-minded slogan: “If everyone was equal before God, then everyone would be equal before price.” The practice caught on. Up until then high-street retailers had generally operated a market-stall system of haggling on most products. Their best prices might be reserved for their best customers. Or they would weigh up each shopper and make a guess at what they could afford to pay and eventually come to an agreement.Now, I never knew that history, though I suppose any of us would have guessed that perhaps there had to be a first place to move from haggling (and the personalised pricing that must have meant) to fixed ticket pricing. I am intrigued and delighted by the insight into how a simple change alters a whole culture for a couple of centuries across the globe. I note how it plays well with massification and the then-developing ideology of free trade.Downsides not mentioned: this would blow a hole in rpi calculations and render difficult or impossible inflation calculations and thus problematise things like index-linked pensions or other payments relying on rpi systems (note the comment in the article "Increasingly, there is no such thing as a fixed price from which sale items deviate"). There's an interesting feed-back loop potential in that. And then there is the hint in the article that poorer people might not come out well, that they would be given higher quotes on the basis that they are less likely to buy lots.It might also become difficult to argue for the price-lowering effects of the Market (capitalisation intended) if in fact such selective pricing is taking place. Interestingly this exposes, possibly, the reliance that market economics may have on fixed pricing as its ideological support. Now I understand that 'surge pricing' or whatever does rely on free-market justification but I suggest that offering a price based purely on demand at a particular point is not the same as offering personalised prices based on what the algorithm suggests that you are willing or able to pay. If the algorithms are using the same or similar digital shadows for you or me, they will all tend to offer similar 'deals' to us. Thus the possibility of shopping around with the consumer power that commands is nullified: this could become a sort of cartel/oligarchy arrangement powered by algorithms. This would create its own algorithmic feedback loop having the effect of ratchetting up prices over time. And I say that in contradiction to the article's assessment towards the end:This looks a lot like the beginning of the end of John Wanamaker’s mission to establish “new, fair and most agreeable relations between the buyer and the seller” and to establish something closer to a comparison site that works both ways – we will be looking for the low-selling retailer, while the retailer will equally be scanning for the high-value customer.I'm not sure that the algorithm's will be sufficiently differentiated. If you want a sense of how this might work, spend half an hour looking at the prices of rarer second-hand books on a variety of sites, asking yourself the question about who would buy at that price -yet probably the prices have been set by an algorithm: the idea that second hand means cheaper in most cases has been blown. Unless of course someone creates price-busting algorithms that have the consumer's better price interests at heart. [...]



Contemporary Churches: a review

2017-05-12T11:44:38.980+01:00

What attracted me to getting hold of this book and reading it was the prospectus that it would help '"to apply the insights of contemplative spirituality and spiritual direction to entire faith communities"For me this is a really of the moment prospectus. Partly because for some time now I've been thinking that we should be discerning the way forward for churches by really listening to the vocations in formation of our members -a sort of corporate guidance exercise. And of course this means that we should be actually living our church lives, for want of a better way of describing it, contemplatively. Part of this is that I have been challenged in the past by the Quaker discernment process as a way of trying to take spiritual accompaniment to the next level which is corporate, congregational discernment. But I have also wanted to take seriously my Charismatic movement roots and the evangelical referencing to Scripture, not to mention taking seriously what we learn (positively and otherwise) from church history about how we do or don't discern good ways forward, or God's ways forward, in relation to our context and cultural milieu. So ... a few implicit expectations on this book; would it be as helpful, insightful and even exciting as I would hope? Was I going to find a book on my wavelength that pushed my thinking forward a bit or even a lot?Well, yes to varying degrees. One of the unexpected things for me from this book was catching a glimpse of just how rapid and alarming is the decline of USAmerican institutional Christianity. However, this is good for reading in a British context as the stories of dealing with decline and institutional death are helpful. "At a time in Amerecan culture when more peolpe than ever are interested in spiritual practices and young people have a renewed interest in ussues of social justice, institutional religion is proving itself to be ill-equipped to respond." -quite so, it looks similar in Britain too.In respect of decline and death, I found it particularly helpful to have a case-study of a church's good death and of the institutionally problematic but kingdom-serving resurrection. In relation to that case it was also helpful to have the author's (psychologically well -informed) psycho-spiritual reflection on the tasks ("stages") of grief and how these are important to be honoured in processes of reflection, church direction-setting and pastoral and missional work. It was good to see, too, the complexities of this named and recognised along with a basic strategy for approaching them. For example, "Some people are in denial, some are moving to acceptance; some are angry; others try to bargain for solutions. That is the state of the institutional church today." I particularly liked the way the tasks of grieving were seen also in Jesus' passion; "Even though he saw it coming, even though he spoke about it to his disciples, Jesus continued to wrestle with his fate and bargain for a different future in the garden of Gethsemane." I think that this is a very important permission-given thing to notice and draw into consideration. And a little further on, "Jesus himself worked through the denial, expressing anger at the religious authorities, bargaining in prayer for another way before accepting his fate." There is some useful reflection following that in how we do this corporately.It was encouraging too to read of approaches to church life where a spiritual-accompaniment approach has been taken. Encouraging because this is what I think I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to. "Council meetings were transformed with the presence of a spiritual director whose function was to call the council together in prayer and reflect back on the process of the [...]



Blue Ocean Faith -book review and reflection.

2017-05-12T10:26:29.062+01:00

I have to say that I'd never heard of the Blue Ocean network, and when I read what they were about I had a bit of a 'where have you been all my life?' moment.So, what's the 'blue ocean' thing about then? Well, we're told neart the beginning that it's a way to describe churches who "fish where other churches don't and because it's the blue oceans that connect all people". I like the idea of fishing where other churches don't and I wonder how that really works out even while I recognise a real need to do so from a situation where I see rivalrous churches casting for the same kinds of people to form congregations of middle class soft-rock singing slightly multi-media soft-charismatic people. And while I get it that they'd want to pitch in where there is obviously some traction, I can't help wondering what about the huge number of people outside of that kind of demographic -is God's Spirit really not at work beyond it?The movement is characterised by six things. First what they call a 'solus Jesus' framework and with that a centred-set mentality. They aim for a childlike faith approach to spiritual development and a third way for controversial issues. They aim to be ecumenical in relation to other churches and for joyful engagement with secular culture. All of these things I warm to and in many ways I would describe my own position in very similar terms. Of course those are the headers. What do the particulars look like?Solus Jesus is looked at through a historical development lens, a trajectory from the Reformation (and worth thinking the more about given that we are in the 500th year since Luther's famous 95 theses) and in particular the Sola Scriptura approach that emerged from it. The point is well made that without inspired interpretation, it perhaps doesn't help us as much as we'd like to have a sola Scriptura thing going on. So the thought is to take our attention to the Jesus who speaks through scripture and to embrace the subjectivity involved in that. I found one quote intriguing and probably about right in this matter; "Neither Jesus nor Paul, nor Peter were sola scriptura people. Actually, their apponents better fit that description" (Loc.558)I also liked the approach to subjectivity captured in this quote: "When Joan of Arc's opponents assert that what she calls the voice of God is in fact only her imagination, her response is 'Of course. How else can we hear God?' " Perhaps that is slightly undermined by the real doubtfulness of what she 'heard', but the point is well made that our human faculties are inevitably involved and interpreting scripture does not deliver us from that.On the matter of childlike faith, it seems to me that the idea is to focus on faith as trust and counterbalance the inherited 'faith as propositional assent' that we seem to have got locked into in much of the west. There's a nice tour of scripture to show that this is really consonant with the experience of God's people and the thrust of a lot of scripture.One of the things I'm left thinking about is the 'third way' approach to controversial subjects. It is based -rightly in my opinion- on Paul's approach to the meat offered to idols controversy and from that the basic approach of inclusion until clarity is found (and a historical point is made to say it takes a lot of patience and quite some time) is taken as well as the principle of respect for 'weaker' brothers and sisters -but the way that is done is worth considering. I'm not sure that it helps fully as the problem of identifying who is 'weaker' still complicates things -but the principle of inclusion as the default is definitely worth thinking about further as a principle based in a clear biblical strategy[...]



Love, lust and lying: can Christians respond without jerking their knees?

2017-04-29T14:09:33.788+01:00

A recent THES publish and interview with the author of Love and Lies, Clancy Martin. I've put the book on my 'to get' list. Meantime there is the interview to go on and which has raised issues for me which I'd like to explore a bit more 'out loud' as it were. The article tells us that basically the book "argues that the double-dealing at the core of every great swindle is also at the heart of erotic love. "I think this means that loving people implies lying to them, necessarily. Of course, this is a hard idea for Christians (and others) to swallow. We are, ostensibly:those who would rather believe Thomas Merton’s claim in Love and Living that “the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image” Doubly so, because it is based in apparently good research and some extended thinking.to confront with chilling clarity the sociopathy that silently underpins most of our average lives. “The sociologist Erving Goffman identified that in his famous book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” Martin says. “We are always playing roles. // So the good liar and the good lover “must be able – or must strive – to see her- or himself through the eyes of the person she or he will come to love”, Martin continues. “The kind of mind control they practise is the same: it’s not strictly coercion; it’s seduction. It’s convincing the person who is the object of the mental manipulation that he or she wants to participate in the illusion being created. Long-term committed erotic love will evolve into something different, something still more complex. But falling in love depends on these kinds of artistic illusions.””I don't think that I see playing roles as negatively as that. I don't think that it is duplicitous. It's not duplicitous because, as I understand Goffman, the point is that there isn't some other 'real' us hiding behind the masks: we actually are the different roles we play: there's no neutral inner-self observer who hides a true identity by acting a part. We are the collection of roles. The task is for us to integrate them. Of course, this is a bit idealised: sometimes we do fake and lie and deceive. But what I'm saying is that such is not inherent in role playing. We can learn to 'play ourselves' in different situations. We should also recognise that we are who we are in relation to other people which means that we are formed in our relationships -with all that implies in terms of self-presentation; learning to trust, beginning to disclose more of ourselves etc. We do all of these processes a grave disservice if we interpret them simply as mendacious and therefore morally reprehensible. Or, alternatively, because there is a degree of less-than-full-disclosure that this means it is somehow okay not to attempt to be integrated and to strive for honesty and transparency.Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the research as presented perhaps pays too little attention to what love actually is.  Surely the point of the quote from Merton, above, is to critique some versions of 'love' by reference to agapaic love. And so, I think that the point raised in the next quote is very interesting because it does seem to make that point to some degree. Love allows us – requires us – to envision possibilities that at one point seemed impossible: the possibility of becoming a person who is capable of making promises that stick, the possibility of creating a lasting home of our own, the possibility of understanding another person’s inner life. But at the beginning of love, none of these possibilities has been a[...]



Universities & 'lad culture': calling time on harassment

2017-04-29T13:57:56.876+01:00

I grew up  thinking, because everyone else around me seemed to think or take as read, that what is now being called 'lad culture' was something we just had to accept. And while I was sometimes encouraged to be part of it, I felt that drinking to the point of illness and bullying relatively random bystanders didn't seem such a good thing to me. Though I have grown to understand that there's something about bonding with mates and telling stories about it afterwards which is the 'good' thing that appeals and holds it together over time. On the other hand, I suspect strongly that a lot of the claims not to recall events are no more than claims: it's a way to distance themselves from embarrassment and give mates a chance to 'admiringly' diss them.Of course, another aspect of the lad thing is sexual. But given that there have been bawdy songs, jokes and banter that imply that women are merely breathing sex dolls with no real agency, then it seems likely that those who are encountered by the lad pack who don't fulfil that role are likely to be treated that way anyhow. And not everyone has the ability to hold their own verbally and attitudinally.So given those sorts of 'facts on the ground', it probably is about time that we looked at lad culture.One in four students (26 per cent) - and 37 per cent of women - had also suffered unwelcome sexual advances such as groping and touching, it added. Two thirds of respondents said they had been aware of students putting up with unwanted sexual comments, with just under one third bearing witness to verbal harassment because of a student’s gender. From: Universities must unite to beat 'lad culture' sexism on campus, claims NUS - News - Student - The IndependentThere is another side:the NUS looks set to undermine one of the best things about campus life: the chance to engage with fellow students and, in doing so, to grow and become a more rounded adult. This means experimenting, talking openly, making friends, sometimes being hedonistic. In trying to straitjacket students by regulating their behaviour through ‘zero tolerance’ policies, the NUS is doing the students it claims to represent a great disservice. from Spiked-online. Though personally, I find that 'conclusion' (for it is the last paragraph of the article) a little disingenuous given that it does earlier acknowledge that it could lead to taking more seriously certain behaviours: "misbehaving students who ‘catcall or grope women students or undress themselves’ potentially facing disciplinary action, or even expulsion." In context it could almost seem that they are condoning groping or creating unpleasant harrassful environments for others. While it's true that sometimes talking openly can make things awkward and it is right for that to be the case. Sometimes talking openly is just plain bullying or wanton harassment with no mitigating public goods. Sometimes being hedonistic can also be done without abusing others, but when it is making sport of other people, that's a different matter. I don't think those things really contribute to growing and becoming more adult -unless they are challenged effectively. They are actually continuances and reconfigurations of rather childish and adolescent behaviours. By all means discuss them and test them, but something does need to be there to protect and safeguard the vulnerable from bullying.[...]



Christ-centred creation and prodigality

2017-04-29T13:36:37.830+01:00

This excerpt from a talk by Tom Wright resonated with some things I've been thinking about in relation to the nature of creation centred in time and space on Christ. +Tom says:
... if creation comes through the kingdom bringing Jesus, we ought to expect it be like a seed growing secretly. That it would involve seed being sown in a prodigal fashion in which a lot went to waste, apparently, but other seed producing a great crop. We ought to expect that it be like a strange, slow process which might suddenly reach some kind of harvest. We ought to expect that it would involve some kind of overcoming of chaos. Above all, we ought to expect that it would be a work of utter, self-giving love. That the power which made the world, like the power which ultimately rescued the world, would be the power not of brute force, but of radical, outpoured generosity. We ought to expect, in other words, that the creation would not look like an oriental despot deciding to build a palace, and just throwing it up at speed, with his architects and builders cowering before him. 
What I find helpful in this is how our attention is drawn to the prodigality of it all. One of the minor objections from creationists is the wastefulness of the processes that the rest of us believe we discern in the geological records and other related evidences. Linking the debate in the way that +Tom does here; to the parable of the sown seed, helps see a kind of implicit endorsement in Jesus' own teaching of a prodigal creative process in which there is some 'hit and miss' element to it all. It kind of finds in creation a prodigality, which Jesus draws attention to and thereby endorses rather than questions. And while this doesn't add up to saying 'this is the meaning of the parable' it does take Jesus' acceptance of the wastefulness of both the creational type and the parabolic antitype as at least the possibility of seeing that generous endowment in which there is more and to spare as the way things are and develop.
I'm finding that really helpful to think further about.



Empathy and its prayerful discontents

2017-04-27T09:52:33.665+01:00

The focus of the article that is linked to the title is different to what I'm thinking about here. But I did find it helpful to see someone else articulating my own concerns about the 'magic bullet' that is empathy. And in fact extending it a bit. I want to consider the flaws in empathy in relation to our praying, particularly praying together.So here's what this article says about the downsides of empathy (selectively quoted by me).1. Ineffective EmpathyWhen our heartstrings are pulled toward a multitude of charitable and social justice causes our resources become spread and diluted, decreasing their ability to make an impact. ... In short, empathy--a compassionate desire to help--doesn't always lead to actual helping. ...2. Empathy and Violence... empathy can lead to violence. ... it causes us to demonize people. A lot of our politics is motivated by empathy, care, and concern for the suffering in the world. But that empathy creates moralistic aggression toward political opponents. Angelic Good Guys fighting against demonic Bad Guys. ...  3. Empathy and Sacrifice... we can feel loads and loads of empathy but still not do anything. ... Empathy is vital, but it's a far cry from self-sacrificial love. We're addicted to compassion. We take a pass on agape.4. Empathic Distress... When we witness the distress of others we sympathetically feel their distress in our own bodies. ... empathy creates an emotional and somatic burden. As we watch social media [etc] day after day, ... sympathetic stress leads to empathy burnout. Chronic anxiety. Depression. Physical exhaustion. Emotional numbness.So, there are quite a few reasons to be wary of empathy. It isn't a short-cut to thinking about agapaic love, it may lay a foundation for developing it but only as part of intentional formation to swerve by its downsides. My own earlier concerns are represented in the list above particularly in the one on violence: empathy as a group-building, identification solidifying thing actually lays foundations for distrust and demonisation of out-groups, perhaps related to ineffective empathy (the first of the list) because all our empathic consideration and attention is taken up by the close exposure to and concern for those closest to us. Hence the need for the parable of the good Samaritan, I suppose...[...]



Mindfulness and men and spirituality -or culturally masculine at least

2017-04-27T09:47:15.176+01:00

I've been leading mindfulness and more general meditation for a while now; quite typically two or three times a week in the university I work with. Sometimes further afield. One of the things I had realised recently was that the groups' gender composition reminds me a bit of the churches I work with; more women than men. There are some men who come along but typically there are women only or only one or two men in the groups. And it turns out that in research on mindfulness, there are gendered differences which may be related to cultural gender constructions.
... stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract," Britton said. "So for people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for [improving] that. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive. While facing one's difficulties and feeling one's emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality."
I'm interested in the further research and thoughts about how to identify the composing elements of mindfulness and to package them in a way that might be more accessible to men who actually do fit to some degree the cultural stereotypes of masculinity.

Obviously, I'm wondering whether there may be factors in common with the churches' experience of gender engagement in worship and other activities. In my mind too arises another set of images: Muslim prayers where the situation is pretty much reversed; men pray in our quiet rooms, not so many women do. And I have got to wondering whether the 'forcible' engagement of men in prayer by tradition and scriptural interpretation actually acts as a kind of cultural bulwark to encourage men to be religious. I guess in asking that it seem obvious that the answer must be 'yes' (though there are nuances and caveats to be recognised). I'm also reflecting on my time as one of the conveners of an alternative worship group which was very much weighted towards men participating. Not deliberately, it was just something we noticed after a while. We wondered whether in that set up it was something about using technology and deploying hands-on activity as part of the liturgy which some was enabling of men in the cultured-masculinity of our society.

All of which has me interested to see how the further research works in terms of finding ways to engage men. It's a health and wellbeing issue for that research but I wonder whether there may be insights to be gained for the churches too.



Forgiving an accidental death

2017-04-25T16:28:07.358+01:00

Another story of forgiving. In this case of a man forgiving the driver of a car which killed his wife. The central part of this seems to be this:[I]f things had been just a little different I might have killed someone too. So in a certain way, I don’t think that we are that different.In this I see a crucial move to recognising a common humanity ('not that different') based on a recognition of common frailty ('...just a little different I might...') sometimes expressed as 'there but for the grace of God go I'. In this case the insight seems to have arisen from a conversation in which the potential for himself being at the wheel in such an accident was mentioned -and in fact strengthened by a what-if comparison in that the actual driver was not intoxicated whereas the forgiver had driven under the influence. In that the 'there but for the grace...' dimension was strengthened.What I found also interesting is the recognition of common humanity in the face of death and loss.What has become clear to me is that sooner or later we all have to face the reality that we will loose everything and everyone we care about, and that when the time comes, we all have to die alone.It seems to me that this recognition plays a significant role in framing the issue of loss in such a way as to give it a manageable proportion in the longer term (and this was 3 years after the event). Seeing ourselves modestly, not at the centre of the universe, and seeing ourselves against the tragic threads of life helps us to be emotionally resilient.I was also struck by these words at the end of the speech.This world being the way it is, I think it’s best if we spend our days loving each other, doing what we can to be a force of goodIt seems to me that this is an attitude consonant with how I understand the relevant clause in the Lord's Prayer (Forgive ... as we forgive, in case you were struggling!). In the context of the will of God and the Kingdom, we know that we are called to love our neighbours. We know from the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbour is one who needs our help (or forgiveness). We are called to be in the cycle of being loved and loving -which includes being forgiven and forgiving.And of course this helps us to recognise the sense in the final gesture of the story.I walked over and shook his hand, then I gave him a hug and told him it was ok. I did it for myself as much as for him, I thinkForgiving is also about being able to move on and not be defined by the tragedy we are recovering from.In other posts I have made about forgiveness, all of these elements have in the aggregate been seen. It is perhaps in seeing this that we begin to see the big picture about forgiving. It is about discovering our own frail humanity and our commonality with others. It is about becoming able to let go for our own sakes as well as for others' and about learning to embody lovingkindness even in the tragedies.The only thing not in this recounting is anger. Quite possibly that was there in the living of the aftermath even if not in the story. After three years, perhaps any anger had abated. Though it may even have been that, living with compassionate attitudes before the incident, had prepared a mental and emotional backdrop which disabled deep and abiding anger from taking root.[...]



Rules for Revolutionaries: a book review

2017-04-10T22:00:40.269+01:00

I have a back history in coming to this book which I think I would be well to declare upfront. I'm a bit of a lefty. There: what you could probably guess by looking at other posts on this blog is now openly declared for this review. Furthermore I have been so for a long time and as a result of my Christian convictions. So this book was interesting at first sight to me because it promised to help show what was learnt by the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 (and a bit before). In this I have not been disappointed. Though it should be noticed that for Brits like me some of the details are a bit hazy in terms of comprehension and as a result there were some points in the middle of the book where I felt that I was getting more detail than I really wanted or at least could cope with.What I do take away from this book though is an insight into the way that a mass movement can develop and be organised without the initiative being taken away from the ordinary people who matter, rather, in fact empowering them. I was a little reminded of the Podemos and Syriza campaigns in Spain and Greece respectively which I believe shared some of the same characteristics of people having distributed ways to organise around issues that matter to them.It makes me think about the role of political parties which I think have traditionally been the way to try to pull things together under modernity. However, in the Bernie campaign and the Podemos and Syriza phenomena I think we see the start of a kind of 'party' organising that is more democratic and participatory.The other thing that has left an impression on me is the analysis of the traction of the Bernie Sanders campaign. The stand-out for me is about laying before people something big and world-changing versus the careful incrementalism of contemporary managerial triangulation politics. The authors attribute the rapid gain in momentum of the Sanders campaign to the big ideas and the call to be a part of changing things. It seemed to me that this is something we in the churches should consider more fully. Perhaps too much of what we do is to triangulate Jesus' call on us rather than letting the whole Kingdom of God thing hang out...Link-Love for this Review: Rules for Revolutionaries websiteRules for Revolutionaries at AmazonRules for Revolutionaries on FacebookBecky Bond on TwitterZack Exley on TwitterRobcast Interview - the conversation between Rob Bell and Zack ExleyBrandNewCongress.org  - Becky and Zack's new Big Organizing non-partisan initiative to upset the power balence of Congress in 2018! Tag as #RulesforRevolutionariesSpeakeasyI do solemnly declare that although I got this book free as a review copy, I am *not* up to no good with it: I have commented freely and as honestly as I know how for good or for ill, for better or for worse. [...]



Nature and urban spirituality

2017-04-04T06:49:44.485+01:00

 Photo by Mike Wilson | UnsplashThe internet is full of beautiful mountains, sunsets, plants, scenes and other wondrous natural productions in photographic glory. Many times they have written across them some scripture or other words that appeal to our sense of awe and wonder. Our spirituality is so often bound up with the natural world in its appreciable grandeur or exquisiteness.But ... i wonder ... leaving aside the concerns about the uglinesses in nature (in reality our inability to appreciate, in many cases) or the triteness that this ends up generating... Why is it that we seem to shy away from seeing the urban environment as a potential source of inspiration? Whether we're thinking about visual or other dimensions of experience.One answer is probably that we somehow see hills and fields as more directly made by God or at least not human-made. The obverse of that is seeing urban environments as more to do with human effort than something that 'tells God's glory'. That phrase points us to scriptural ideas such as in Romans 1 where the majesty of creation discloses something of God. On this basis, so much of the urban reveals its creator: humankind.One of the effects of this almost unquestioned way of looking at things is that we seem to have many retreat centres in the countryside but very few in urban areas -I can only think of three urban retreat centres in Britain: one in Bradford, West Yorkshire, one in Edinburgh and one in Durham. Perhaps there are more but I would be surprised if there were a great many more.So, my question is whether we can have an urban spirituality which would undergird the development of city retreat centres without damning them with faint praise compared with those set in beautiful countryside contexts. I do wonder how far the retreat to the country might be rooted in the impetus which drove pioneer monastics to the desert: to get away from the currupt urban civilisation and its vanities. But even that observation reminds us that the early Christian faith is very much and urban faith and in many parts of the world today, that is still the case. However, much western Christian imagination is still drawing deeply from the wells of our rural past and perhaps the way that the renaissance of the urban is tied to the 'dark satanic mills' of industrialisation has played a big part in maintaining that. Yet we should recognise that the urban population of the world is now bigger than the rural and that the economies of scale probably make being human as urbanites will tend to be better for the planet than otherwise.First of all, in response to the question of developing an urban spirituality which could support city retreat centres, I'd actually like to note that seeing the landscape as natural and somehow more directly from God's hand is actually a bit of a stretch, in reality. Geologists are beginning to say that we live in the anthropocene period. What that means for us now is that we need to recognise just how much of our landscape (in Britain definitely) is actually human-formed or human-made. Britain was once pretty much one big forest but centuries of farming and land management by animal husbandry have altered our landscape. Trees are replaced by fields or moorland and prevented from regrowing by sheep or by burning. We know this to our cost in the last decade or two as we have really missed the water absorbancy that more woodland and forest would have given to protect some areas from flood[...]



The Divine Dance – By Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell

2016-12-04T20:25:25.727+00:00

I've been enjoying various things about this book. One is that the theology is interesting and put over in an unpretentious and potentially helpfully expressed way. I'm guessing that for some readers some of the theology might be new, but the authors have done a good job of making it accessible and interesting. And I enjoyed the attempt to pick up some imagery that has contemporory resonance and to work with it to try to make something of the way Christians reflect on God accessible in a way that helps us in discipleship and spirituality. I would like to think about the idea of 'flow' a bit more -but perhaps a bit more cautiously than here in this book.There were a couple of things that had me frowning a bit. One was the translation of perchoresis as 'dance' Even if this is warrented, it falls into the etymological fallacy that the 'origin' of a word (and in this case that actually means its origin in the records we have which is itself a moment frozen in time by writing) gives us its true meaning. I think we should pay attention to the fact that "perichoresis" is usually translated something like 'co-inherance' because its use-value in those texts is more like that. I was also surprised by the idea that the original Icon 'Hospitality at Mamre' by Andre Rublev had a mirror in it. I think this might be factually incorrect but based on the thought that the portrayal in the icon of a relicary shown in the middle front of the table round which the figures sit might be seen as representing a bringing of created bings into the relating of the 'angels' representing the persons of the Trinity. Certainly, I would be prepared from time to time to try the mirror idea out to help make that point in a learning or worship context. But I think that it is unlikely that the icon was originally so made.Another of the things I was less convinced about was can be found in some of the criticisms in this article. It seems to me that while 'flow' can be a helpful image for us to undestand something about the relatedness and community of God, it could also seriously mislead us if it becomes the unity of God in some way: then the problem mentioned about the western tendency to overemphasise the Unity gets simply transferred to this 'new' image of Flow. And that image itself then becomes a controlling metaphor which hasn't been subjected to the wider conversation of the church, so a little more wariness about using it is warranted I think than the authors give it. So while I think that it is useful to think about the dynamism of God's action in the world by the Spirit which can be related to notions of the Kingdom and also to ideas of us being caught up into God's life, love and work, I am also a little worried about too much of a collapse into a pantheistic way of describing things. I am comfortable that the idea of theopoesis needs to be grounded in the doctrine, probably somewhere around here. But care is needed. I suspect the reviewer in the article just referenced may not be comfortable with the biblically derived notion of theopoesis and so the more vehement push back against the book.And I guess the thing I'm alert for is whether using the notion of flow begins to cut out the person-ness of God, which might actually be one of the main points of a trinitarian theology. In that way, 'flow' might displace and important insight and downgrade personality and the notion that God is Love. I can see that the authors do not want to[...]



Unbubbling ourselves

2016-11-12T14:56:38.814+00:00

On Wednesday morning I realised that I didn't really understand why people like me might vote for Donald Trump and yet clearly, rational well-intentioned people had done so. But I wouldn't be able to tell you why. In the past, I have often been able to help people who might agree with me to at least understand a bit of how our opponents might see things and why it might seem rational for them to approach things in the way they do. But somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost that. And then I realised that I had become a victim of the 'bubble' phenomenon. I had ended up with Tweet feeds and publication notifications and media alerts which reinforced and fueled my existing perspectives on public life and I hadn't got much in there to help me to understand other PoVs.So, I'm going to begin to look out for things that will help me to do that. This will mean having to look at ideas that I am very unsympathetic to and to be exposed to presentations of ideas and information that will implicitly and unknowingly portray me as an enemy of reason and a danger to social health and economic wellbeing. In short, the reasons that put me off from engaging with them in the first place are things I will need to grow a thick skin about in order to get through to an understanding of the good things that motivate them.You see, I do think that no-one (or very few people) take positions for perverse and malevolent reasons. At the worst they usually do so for self-interest, often they do so because they believe that the view is right and would be for the good of the many if not all. Probably, like for many of us, those two will exist together in a mixture further stabilised by a self-image and group identity.As someone called to be a peacemaker and to love not only neighbour but also enemies, I think that I (perhaps we?) should be able to reach out, show understanding and to disagree with empathy and integrity, without arrogance or rudeness and always hoping for positive change (see 1 Cor.13:4-7). I think that always rejoicing in the truth (1 Cor passage again) means that we should be looking for and celebrating things that seem to be well founded in evidence and resonant of the values of Christ even while challenging things that don't. But I also think that we need, as peacemakers, to be enabling our 'enemies' to trust our integrity and commitment to truth and love. We need to demonstrate that we can understand, that we can listen hard enough and well enough to repeat back to them in our own words what their take on things is -even though it may pain us to do so. Because if we can't or won't do that, we will not earn the right to be heard and we will not be able to put over another view, our view, in a way that will have a real possibility of being heard and understood in turn.In other words, we are called to engage in dialogue. Including taking the risk of listeninng well enough that we ourselves may learn something and perhaps change something about the way we proceed. Loving our neighbour as ourselves involves that, you see.It's time to stop being inbubbled, it is time to burst our own bubbles in the name of love, peace as justice.It's time to learn to listen before we speak lest we continue to fund conflict and ever spiralling misunderstanding which could lead to violence. Sometimes it is hard also to endure the misunderstanding of allies who will see our quest for dialogue as giving undue re[...]