Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Real good for free

Joni Mitchell once sang of a sax player who was playing real good for free. Well, I want to sing the praises of noisetrade, an excellent music portal that is offering really high quality free music by some really excellent singer/songwriter types.

Last week I downloaded Kelley McRae's sublime Highrises in Brooklyn and this afternoon I have acquired the really promising The Ladder by Andrew Belle. Before Christmas I downloaded a load of tracks of reworked Christmas songs, some of which is really excellent - in particular a set of songs by high street hymns.

So, it's a site really worth checking out and signing up to. Just go to Noisetrade for the Andrew Belle link which is only there until Friday. Sign up for email alerts and you'll get a load of invitations to share free music. You know it makes sense!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The end of a great adventure

I have just put the last full stop at the end of the last sentence of my MA dissertation (well, it was actually a sentence halfway down page 13 but it's the last one I intend to write!). It is done; complete; finished. Coming in at 47,625 words (a shade under the maximum), A Church in Every Worskhop? The Economic, Physical and Social Location of the Early Pauline Communities will be winging its way to the examiners tomorrow. Hopefully, they will give it the thumbs up and I will get my prize from the Archbishop of Canterbury in June.

I feel like a pearl diver who at the end of extended sojourn in deep ocean is coming to the surface. In a moment the sun will strike my skin, I will squint in its brightness and I will take in lungs-full of fresh air. And then...? I'm not sure. I will suddenly have time and brain space for other things - which is good because there are lots of other things to requiring time and brain space. But I think as the idea of completion settles in, it will feel good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Coming up for air

Wiped out by flu last week - two-and-a-half days in bed; the rest of the time vegging on the sofa - but I was able to watch of season 1 of my Dr Who box set (cracking!).

Back to church yesterday with our first Messy Talk, a follow-up to Messy Church using the Table Talk conversational card game. And it went really well. Three families stayed on after the Messy church mayhem for coffee and conversation. Their kids were looked after by the team and we talked about work/life balance. A good time was had by all and all said they'd back next month for part two.

It was a notable first for the church because for the first time we had two 'services' running simultaneously on our premises. The friends of Messy church were very excited about this and everyone else graciously let us get on with it.

Today I finished my first semester teaching a single NT course at Spurgeon's (introduction to Paul via 1 Corinthians). It's been a great experience and I think the students enjoyed it too. Next semester, I'll be teaching Romans to a similar group which I am also looking forward to.

This week, I have a pretty clear run at getting the corrections and rewrites done on the dissertation ahead of submission at the end of the month.

Listening to LCD Sound system and Hurts - the latter a Manchester electronic band who sound like the secret love child of Tears for Fears and the Human League (crazy but it works).

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The art of grabbing people's attention

This morning I'm reflecting Jesus' so-called sermon on the plain, starting with the words that appear in my previous post.Here's how things kick off...

You can imagine the crowd turning up – a right mixed bag:

poor folk and rich ones;
people in fine clothes who have breakfasted well
and people in work-wear who haven’t eaten yet today;
people able to take a morning off,
others who risk not earning what they need to eat today…

They’ve all come because they’re interested; they’re keen to know what this Jesus is all about; perhaps they even crave a spiritual experience – some might even have received one already.

Jesus’ words would have left each of them spluttering, like they do us – if we’re paying attention:

     blessed are you when your benefits are cut
     and the damp’s rising in the wall of your temporary accommodation…
     blessed are you when you can’t afford your five-a-day
     and the payday loan is due…
     blessed are you when people call you scrounger and cheat…

     woe to you if your salary is 80 times that of your workers
     and your table’s heaving with enough food
     to feed a small Malian village…
     woe to you when people say how well you’re doing…

The lucky people are not the healed and healthy, the well-healed and wealthy, but those who know they’re bankrupt and busted and only God can help them.

I imagine that by v26 he either had their attention or could see them turning and walking away – which was his intention. This is not Robbie Williams saying ‘let me entertain you…’ This is God’s Son grabbing his audience’s attention; calling us to a life of discipleship: do we stay or do we go?

For those with nothing, the choice is easier than it is for those laden with stuff; but for both there’s a sense of disbelief to overcome – does he mean it?

• Is there good news for the likes of us; those the world looks down on; those who feel their poverty and ill-health to be God’s punishment? It sounds like there is…shall we hang around to hear more?

• Is there good news for the likes of us; we who’ve worked hard and saved, got an education, bought a stake in the race and are reaping the rewards? Sounds like there isn’t… Should we hang around to hear more?

Yes: Jesus is speaking to disciples (17b, 20a), to those who are listening (27; 7:1): this is good news for everyone: a radical shake-up that changes everything and from which everyone emerges a winner… No wonder there’s singing at the back!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Weighing rewards

'We're all in this together' is the often-heard mantra in these straightened times. But this morning's figures from Incomes Data Services suggests that some of us are more in it in than others. The 'it' in question is the pay trough: boardroom pay has risen on average by 55% while ordinary workers pay is lagging inflation (as measured by the RPI); public sector pay is rising on average by 0.7% with prices rising at over 4% (you do the maths).

For some reason we still seem to believe that the rich need to be incentivised by money while the poor are incentivised by austerity. And we seem to think that this is fair.

Jesus said:

      Blessed are you who are poor,
      for yours is the kingdom of God.
      Blessed are you who hunger now,
      for you will be satisfied.
      Blessed are you who weep now,
      for you will laugh.
      Blessed are you when people hate you,
      when they exclude you and insult you
      and reject your name as evil,
      because of the Son of Man.
      Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
      because great is your reward in heaven.
      For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
      But woe to you who are rich,
      for you have already received your comfort.
      Woe to you who are well fed now,
      for you will go hungry.
      Woe to you who laugh now,
      for you will mourn and weep.
      Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
      for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
                                      (Luke 6:20-26)

So, I wonder what he makes of these numbers...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Is faith the product of fear or aspiration for something better?

Over the Christmas lay-off, I finished Cole Moreton's Is God Still an Englishman? It's a lively read that suggests that adherence to the Christian faith in England really collapsed in the 1980s and 90s. In this he is following in the footsteps of Callum Brown.

The collapse was finally brought about by a loss of faith in the institution of the Church of England largely as a result of financial mismanagement and rows over women and gay priests. As such, as a thesis, it is neither original nor particularly accurate.

But the book is a lively and, in places, compelling account. It is particularly good when Moreton is narrating his own ebbing and flowing faith. Clearly a fully-paid up member of charismatic evangelicalism in the 1980s, he charts his disenchantment with the movement in a way that every person concerned with the future of the church in the UK should take note of. He is an example of what Alan Jamieson charted in A Churchless faith a decade ago.

There are lots of things to pick up from the book (and I might do that over coming weeks if there's time) but one thing struck me and stayed with me and I wonder whether it might account for some of the losses that the church as whole has suffered in recent years. He talks about his conversion starting 'because I was afraid. The end of the world was nigh' (p64).

He had begun this particular chapter by suggesting that the ratcheting up of Cold war rhetoric in the early 1980s, the siting of cruise missiles at Greenham Common and the re-showings of the controversial BBC film, the War Game, all led to mounting fear which in turn drew 'surprising numbers of young churches of all kinds' (p63 - is this true?)

I wonder how many people are converted to Christianity because of fear - fear for the future, fear of judgement. I'm old enough to remember Hal Lindsey selling fire insurance at the end of the movie of his book Late Great Planet Earth. But even then I thought that this was a pretty silly reason to believe in something.

I had become a Christian in the early 1970s because I wanted to change the world. I was outraged by Biafra, Apartheid, the Vietnam War, poverty and hunger and I wanted a different world. I was drawn to the Christian faith through Alan Billings, curate of my local church, who offered me a Jesus who shared my desire for a new world, one that started now as well as came in the hereafter. It wasn't fear of the future but the recognition that Jesus offered a way to the kind of world I was looking for that brought me to faith.

And it's kept me in the faith. Yes, I grew up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation; I watched the War Game in the 70s and was appalled that our government along with others could be planning to inflict this scale of suffering on people. But with the waning of the Cold War and the coming of the 'unending war of terror', I still look at Jesus and see another way of living in the world and working for a future of justice, peace and equality.

I wonder if the church would capture people's imagination rather more if, instead of offering sophisticated fire insurance to the fearful, it showed people that following Jesus leads to the kind of life that most of neighbours really aspire to with the possibility of the kind of world they dream of living in. It certainly keeps me stumbling after my Lord and saviour.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A new year brimming with opportunities

Happy New Year! 2011 dawn with a heat wave - well it's above freezing for the first time in a couple of weeks - and a rush of opportunities. We had a great Christmas, catching up with family, celebrating with friends and generally chilling.

I'm looking forward to watching the complete seasons 1-4 of Dr Who and Inception, reading Michael Wood and playing the CSI board game (all found in this year's stocking).

I shall be spending the first month of the year tidying up my dissertation for submission by the end of the month and then pondering life out of the first century for a while. My Lion book - on the same topic as my research - will be hitting the shops in March. It will be interesting to see how that is received. I've done a couple of presentations using material from the book in churches and they have gone really well, suggesting an appetite for a bit of ancient history/New Testament context among ordinary church goers which is very encouraging.

Anyway here's the cover to look out for in your local Wesley Owen or Waterstones.

2011 promises to be a year of challenges on many fronts. On one front, it'll be the year when we see whether the Big Society is just hollow rhetoric or can rise to be a cushion to those dashed on the rocks of austerity. So, here's a thought from Basil of Caesarea to sustain you through the year's ups and downs: 'when someone steals a person's clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to the one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.'