Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Transitioning London..

There are perks and draw backs to living in a city whose infrastructure is largely Victorian!

Anyone who has lived in London during the last four to five years will have experienced transition. This transition is from an older way that had lost its efficiency, to a new way that is recapturing an efficiency of old.

That which likes to see itself as emerging would do well not to lose that which it calls institutional and, that which likes to see itself as institutional would do well not to lose that which it calls emerging!

This transition has been messy and inconvenient. It has had to be well planned and articulated. It started when the problems were realistically acknowledged but seen as not being insurmountable. The old Victorian water pipe work that had become corroded, broken and in a general state of increasing decay, while still achieving its aim, could not be ignored. It leaked, it didn't achieve what it was meant to achieve hemorrhaging galleons of water a minute. (here).

A huge engineering task has stopped and slowed traffic all over London as areas particularly affected are addressed. Huge holes have appeared in most parts of London as engineers work to bring back ‘watertight’ efficiency to the distribution of water throughout the city. A 1,000 miles of pipeline by 2010!

Of particular interest is that the old pipe work is not obsolete, it may not function in the same way but its role is essential within the transition. Huge reels of plastic piping announce that the end of inconvenience is near as they are fed - I am told in some cases - through the older pipes. The older pipes guide and act as a conduit to the new. The pipes look different but the water tastes the same.

That which likes to see itself as emerging would do well not to lose that which it calls institutional and, that which likes to see itself as institutional would do well not to lose that which it calls emerging!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blue Billy...

It was always a risk going to see Billy Elliot.

We wanted Eryn and Bethan to see the dancing and experience the whole West End show atmosphere. But we were a little wary because of the intensity of the language. From the outset it was full on.

The story was compelling, the dancing was electric and the language, no doubt about it, spectacular. It was a great night, shame that the key dance was left incomplete because of a stage prop problem.

Next day on the way to school I talk to Eryn about the show. Eryn asked me if I enjoyed it.

"It was great but I am worried about one thing".

"What's that...?"

"Well Eryn, the language was a bit bad..."

Eryn looks up at me and says,

"...don't worry Dad ...."

".... I knew them all!"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr Rowan Williams on environmental repentance!

God 'will not give happy ending' is an article on the BBC News Website found here.

Drawing attention to the 'disastrous damage' that humanity is wreaking on the environment Dr Rowan Williams in a lecture calls for a 'radical change of heart'. Shalom in terms of right relationship often seems to stop short of this, but of course would include right relationship with our environment. Rowan Williams suggests that selfishness and greed is seen as the issue that leads us to 'ignore our interdependence with the natural world'.

"We need to all do what we can now, or we're giving up on this world."

Friday, March 20, 2009

'The Last Temptation' and Derek...

Derek sobbed from his very being, deep shudders of emotion. I felt them as I sat next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Estelle felt them as she held Derek's hand. The whole room at Faith House felt them as they watched on and listened.

We'd heard a lot from Derek that night. Slightly the worse for wear he had pushed boundaries, let his agitation spill over into the group, patiently the men at the drop in gave him space to do his drunk thing in their community. His day hadn't been good, kicked out and banned from five other places he came to Faith House and he had something to say.

Through the tears and the sobs he caught the attention the whole room.

As he was kicked out of McDonald's a mother and a child ran after him with some french fries and a coffee. Something profound in that simple act of kindness hit Derek between the eyes and took him back to what he had read.

"For fifty years I've been banging my head up against a brick wall, but now I know..."

"What do you know Derek?" Estelle coaxed.

"He did it ... for me"

"He ... Jesus stayed on the cross for me ?"

"Someone gave me a book when I was in the cells, I only read the end ... Jesus could have got off the cross, got married and could've had six kids but he didn't, he stayed on the cross for me and now I know..."

The drama of the moment continued to grow as Derek looking down at the floor continued to sob.

"...and I am so sorry ... so sorry"

What had brought it all crashing back for Derek?

As he was kicked out of McDonald's a mother and a child ran after him with some french fries and a coffee. Something profound in that simple act of kindness hit Derek between the eyes and took him back to what he had read.

Hands up all those who boycotted 'Last Temptation of Christ....?' Seemingly 'The Last Temptation' written by Nikos Kazantzakis brought Derek to the place where he could not escape the selfless love seen in Jesus!! Well what do you know...!

Looking up he looked at the men who had stayed for our end of the night thought, "and I am sorry I've been a bl**dy *rse tonight too!!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Unusual Churches...

I stumbled across this site with pictures of unusual churches. Part 1 and part 2 give you 40 different unusual church designs.

No sign of Chelmsford SA as of yet!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Frank Smith Lost Voice of Mission….

The enigma of Frank Smith has intrigued me for years and it has been good to get an insight to this man through a paper given several years ago to the National Salvation Army Social Services Conference by Norman Murdoch.

If ever there was a lost voice of Mission within TSA it is Frank Smith. The one time Commissioner who led TSA work in the US and Canada (1884-1887) and who was TSA first Social Wing Commissioner 1888-90 resigned and left TSA to become a founder member of the British Labour party. With his ‘desertion’, the cloud under which he left descended further to almost fog any influence he had within the formation of a holistic missiological theology that shaped TSA then, and continues to do so now.

There is very little historical recognition of Frank Smith and his influence, seemingly an awkwardness and embarrassment he simply is not considered. He warrants a minimal attention in Sandall’s historical account of the development of TSA, which is reflected in almost a denial that he shaped the social programme of TSA and that he led the Social Wing. Murdoch (2003) suggests that for some reason Frank Smith remains a peripheral figure and an organisational maverick. Yet for many Salvationists particularly those who worked in city slums he forged a theology of missional engagement that broadened and brought a more holistic understanding of Salvation.

For many Smith was seen as representative of a “new pattern of Salvation Army leadership” who gave welfare work high priority to readdress a growing schism between what was known as the Spiritual Wing and the Social Wing. His socialist way of thinking shaped his theology as he argued that corps should be social centres with Salvationist lay members engaged in social service as well as soul saving. As the first Social Wing Commissioner he is given little credit for the 11 men’s shelters; 10 cheap food depots; 5 workshops; 3 labour bureaus; 7 labour factories; a prison-gate home; a farm colony; 14 rescue homes; 8 Women’s Institutions; 40 slum posts all set up in his 2 year tenure!

His influence over Darkest England and the Way Out is largely played down, as was his influence over William Booth and his ‘change of mind’. The change was dramatic for Booth who had concluded that early charitable mission was unfounded and in fact pauperised those in need, that anything in this vein was not the 'work proper'. The narrowness of definition of salvation summed up with many sound bytes by Catherine who saw soup and soap as secondary.
"Oh! How I see the emptiness and vanity of everything compared with the
salvation of the soul. What does it matter if a man dies in the workhouse? If he
dies on a doorstep covered with wounds, like Lazarus - what does it matter if
his soul; is saved?"

Such strength of thought saw TSA retreat from its early forays into holistic mission, it's theology not rigorous enough to underpin and give meaning to its actions. Alongside this, Murdoch (2003) identifies that Booth was aware that TSA was seeing it's credibility being lost inner city. It would seem that Smith helped Booth to identify that the driving force for the primacy of individual soul salvation was responsible for dualistic schism that was fragmenting holistic mission.

Post 1890 Booth’s theology became increasingly tired of the dualism seen between the Spiritual and the Social Wing; Smith’s advanced social ideas no doubt would have had an impact as together Smith and Booth explored ‘Wholesale Salvation’ as a means of bringing a balance between individual and social salvation.

'O Wholesale Salvation! doesn't have the same kind of ring, but given the development of Booth's missional theology it makes you wonder when Booth wrote these words:

O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fullness of mercy, Christ brought from above,
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, now flowing for all men,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

... 1893, three years after 'Darkest England and the Way Out' and the resignation of Commissioner Frank Smith.

Frank Smith resigned and went into politics. I suspect there are many theories that could be put forward, many of which have pushed Frank Smith's voice into safe obscurity. The impact of his voice can be seen around the world but by and large he represents another lost voice of mission.

Murdoch, N.H .(2003) Frank Smith: Salvationist Socialist. National Salvation Army Social Services Conference.


Apparently Frank's Smith's brother ended up with Frank's memoirs etc... but no one seems to have been able to track him down which is a shame. So if anyone had an ancestor called John Smith can they just check their attics for Frank Smith's memoirs!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The weight of judgement...

Henri Nouwen points out that:
"judging others is a heavy burden, while
being judged by others is a light one"

We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments about it can be quite oppressive.

The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy. Let's remember Jesus' words: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged" (Matthew 7:1).

There is an irony that it is demanding and tiring carrying this weight, yet it is so difficult to let go and put this weight down!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thinking out loud with Albert Osborn and Søren Kierkegaard

Not far from any sermon illustration website is the name and thoughts of Søren Kierkegaard. I've had a book of his parables on my bookcase for years and have started to slowly make my way through. Here's the first one.

What happens to those who try to warn the present age?

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought is was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.

"Too often I worry that a prevalent 'consumer bar code Christian' theology covers much of the profundity of God with stage paints, a big red nose, outlandishly large shoes and a ruff."


Kierkegaard, S. (1989). Parables of Kierkegaard (Kierkegaard's Writings). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

I suppose the idea of these sayings and parables is for them to provoke and to stimulate thought. We sang the words of General Albert Osborn this week and I have been provoked!

"Only as I know thee can I make thee truly known..."

-Albert Osborn

There is a link here somewhere. At what level do we make God truly known?

Too often I worry that a prevalent 'consumer bar code Christian' theology covers much of the profundity of God with stage paints, a big red nose, outlandishly large shoes and a ruff. There's an irony here that presents itself, in that, in order to engage with the mystery of God we have to slip our God given enquiring minds into neutral.

I'm not sure that taking a leap of faith means our theology needs to become irrational in order to appreciate the mystery of God. Nor am I sure, that an attitude of 'Many are the things I cannot understand, all above me mystery I see...' is an excuse to be lazy with our thinking and theology.

Albert Osborn and Søren Kierkegaard have got me thinking, if I present God at an superficial level what does it say of what I know of God? If I present God at an superficial level is it any wonder that no-one really listens!!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Gratitude for God's counterpoint...

Charles Ringma has been a constant companion through his books for several years. I've just finished Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton and have benefited greatly from this guys interpretation of Merton's thoughts and reflections. Periodically I'll post a particular insight that has been helpful to me.

"In our contemporary religious world many are the voices that trumpet the gospel of fullness. Fed by the narcissism of our culture, this gospel knows only the message of fulfilment. God's blessings are given to make us better, whole, integrated and empowered...

There is a flipside to the gospel of fullness. It is the gospel of emptiness...

Just as the spiritual life can't flourish without the smile of God's shalom, so it can not mature without the dark night of the soul. The bounteous muchness of God's Grace is to find its counterpoint in the blight of the desert wind.

Merton makes the point that 'unless we are grateful for our own existence, we do not know who we are , and we have not yet discovered what it really means to be and to live' Gratitude is the true posture of our relationship with God and to others. Gratitude helps us see life as a gift. It evokes celebration. And it empowers for service.

A life of gratitude is fuelled by a magic that helps us to walk the long journey up hills and down dales. Peaks and the deepest abyss cannot stop the one who lives gratefully out of the presence of God."

Ringma, C. R. (2003:52- 53). Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton: Reflections on Identity, Community and Transformative Action. London: Spck Publishing.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Talking Footy...

Camael does not really like to give too much away. He has been coming along to Faith House for several months and conversations usually come to an end when you ask him where he comes from. It is clear from his accent that he is from Eastern Europe but for some reason he is sensitive to anyone showing too much interest.

Camael certainly enjoys his football and knows his stuff. A huge Man Utd fan who can talk with authority about fringe players and up and coming talent. Not only that he knows his La Liga from his Serie A. Camael came to life as we drank tea and talked about managers tactics, classic football from years gone by. I didn't dare bring this to an end by asking where he was from so I ask.

"So Camael who'd you support as a kid?"

"Steaua Bucharest...! the first eastern European team to win the European Cup final." he offers,


With a sip of his tea and a smile he says "Of course".

It is interesting that these guys let you into their story ... when they want you to be there. It is a privilege that I have learned not to take for granted.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lent 2009...

I had a few moments of thought while in a lecture last week and jotted some bullet points down as people were coming up with three things that community should be built upon - I quickly jotted Faith Hope and Charity should I be asked (I wasn't!).

Something earlier was said which got me thinking about what it might mean to fast from yourself or give yourself up for lent. A spidergram quickly grew

When we fast from ourselves we give up the need to -
  • Project a better image of ourselves
  • Justify our actions
  • Make excuses
  • Draw attention of ourselves through the use of humour
  • Blame others
  • Be defensive
  • Cultivate selfishness
  • Have the loudest voice in a discussion
  • Seek glory
  • Seek affirmation
  • Manipulate situations
  • Maintain our rights
As I've thought this through in the context of wholeness, it has made me think how often the choices we make are about us and how the consequent impulses displace God with our needs to be met.

Eryn who always takes lent seriously, once giving up tea and newspapers! decided to check on what I was giving up this year.

"I'm thinking about giving myself up for Lent!"

Eryn is not impressed and throws a "don't bother" over her shoulders as she leaves the room, "you'll never do it....!"

Free online personality tests and quizes...

I've stumbled across this questionnaire on Religion, Spirituality, & Personality. I suspect it is there in order to get insights on Faith and Religious Psychological Development. The personalized feedback on your responses and comparison to other people's is a little disappointing but nevertheless the direction of the questions is insightful.