Sunday, November 25, 2012

A blog about Headship

Yesterday I read this article on a blog:

I found it really sad - here are people feeling unhappy because the expectations they have about marriage and relationships are based on ideas that don't seem to connect with their real lives.  I particularly feel sad for these decent, Godly, caring men who are not able to live comfortably with  a set of expectations laid on them by their churches, their pastors and those around them.

The reason I feel a degree of sadness and empathy for these men, and others like them is because I know what it is like to live with the tension of having a set of gifts and abilities, inadequacies and lacks, that seem to be god-given but which some people want me to think are a result of my sin, are not right for me to act on, that I shouldn't develop, that I shouldn't use in ministry in the church.  I know that because I am a woman pastor.  So with kindness and grace I want to say to these men "Welcome to my world" *

*Can we try and change this world, so that we can be who we are, who we have been made by God, rather than be defined by our gender?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A book review

I've just finished reading this:

Is God still an Englishman?

And I found it very instructive.  As someone who is interested in faith in England (and the rest of the UK) this book brought home some very interesting developments in the faith of English people.  It's written by someone who has been a christian of many and varied hues over the years and now seems to find himself as one who still believes in something but doesn't find organised Christianity very helpful in exploring that belief. I think if we want to talk to younger generations about belief we need to listen very hard to books like this.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A contribution to a debate about Empowerment and Theology

My friends and colleagues Becca Dean and Jo Dolby have been having some blog discussion about these topics here:

and here:

There were a lot of connections with some of the reading I've been doing so I thought I would put in my two penn'orth.

I’ve been thinking and reading about the end of Christian discipleship.  To clarify, when I say end, I don’t mean the finish of it, but rather the eventual aim of it, what is sometimes referred to as the telos.  I noticed that a lot of writers on Christian education were talking about different sorts of ethics and how at different times Christian discipleship had been shaped by different ethical styles.  Ethics is often divided into three styles: deontological or rules-based ethics, where behaviour is governed by a set of externally derived rules or laws; consequential ethics, where behaviour is governed by the outcome of a course of action, as in utilitarianism where the greatest good of the greatest number is sought; and virtue ethics where the character of the person is so imbued with virtues that in any given situation that person will behave in accordance with those virtues.  

In the Christian education context, the different styles have prevailed at different times, so at times Christians were taught that in order to be good they need to follow God’s rules, at other times they were taught that they needed to seek the good of others.  At the moment the underlying ethic seems to be moving towards virtue ethics and there seems to be some biblical warrant for the importance of shaping the character of a person so that they will then do what is right.  Educationalists such as Westerhoff and James K A Smith base their arguments on the originator of this approach, Aristotle, and it could be argued that the call to be transformed inwardly described in Romans 12:2 and Romans 5:1-5 is in line with it.

I think this is significant to the discussion Becca and Jo are having for two reasons.  The first is that it connects with the idea of absolute truth.  I think I agree that there is absolute truth; I’m just not sure that I (or anyone else) can be absolutely confident that I know what the meaning of that is.  I’ve noted elsewhere in my blog that Jesus says that he is the truth, and so I think my calling as a disciple is to know him rather than to seek for truth.  Absolute truth tends to fit more with a rules-based ethic and way of teaching; it suggests that if we could just know what the rule is, we could get it right, and we could then tell our children that rule and then they will be good.  It even tends towards a form of Gnosticism, which is not helpful (it’s actually heretical!) 

The second connection with Becca and Jo’s discussion is more methodological.  If the telos is to develop Christian virtues and character then we need to be equipping and empowering young people to develop those Christian virtues in themselves.  Aristotle develops his virtues based on Plato’s virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and prudence and suggests that these virtues and other minor virtues are developed in children by doing virtuous acts and thereby developing good habits leading in turn to human flourishing.  Wikipedia summarises it:  “people become virtuous by performing virtuous actions, which they might not have chosen themselves when young. They must develop proper habits during childhood and this usually requires help from teachers, parents, and law-makers.  A good community is normally required for the development of good people.”   This seems to me to connect with Jo’s scaffolding idea; young people need to be surrounded by a scaffold that supports them as they develop the inner habits of virtue.  These habits then become the ultimate empowering because young people are able to act in ways that make for the good life, for human flourishing not because of rules imposed on them, but because of their own internal virtue.

I’m still pondering the practical outworking of this, and my reading continues but I think it’s the beginnings of a paradigm shift for me in terms of my understanding of the task of discipleship which fits with the youth work value of empowerment.

p.s. In the interests of academic probity I should say that my thoughts and ideas at this stage are being shaped and refined by reading James K A Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, Samuel Wells’ Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, John H. Westerhoff’s Will Our Children Have Faith, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as well as Wikipedia.  I also own a copy of MacIntyre's After Virtue...but I haven't read it yet!

p.p.s I am aware of the irony of using a pre-christian philosopher in my thinking but arguably both Plato and Aristotle have always been influential  on Christian education.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reflections from Missing Generation Conference 13th October 2012

I recently spent a day with my favourite sort of people – young people.  True they were a little older than the young people and children I usually work with but they were mostly under thirty, so younger than me.  I love young people for their energy, their passion and their desire and commitment to changing the world and making a difference.

Today’s group were no exception; I was very challenged by their ability, their passionate love for God and their giftedness.  They are from the generation that is often missing from our churches, the 18-30s and I have to tell you that if you don’t have people like these in your church you are the losers.  (This is their website in case you're interested)

I was also personally challenged; we were invited to ask God what we were being called to and what our dreams were and today was a step towards me gaining clarity about my next steps in ministry.  About six years ago I felt called into ordained youth ministry in the Baptist church.  I was, and remain, committed to the church, with all its failings, and particularly to the Baptist corner of it.  I’m also committed to the place of young people in it; all my work and study for the last ten years has deepened that sense of commitment. 

The call was founded on several things, but today I was reminded of one of them.  It was this passage from the Old Testament Prophet Zechariah, Chapter 8:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Let your hands be strong--you that have recently been hearing these words from the mouths of the prophets who were present when the foundation was laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the Lord of hosts.

For me it’s a vision of what God’s plan for his people is.  It’s a place where all can be themselves, where all can be safe, can play a part, where young and old (slave and free, greek and jew, men and women) live together and where God makes his dwelling place.  It seems like an impossible dream, but in verse 6 God acknowledges this and remind us that it will not be impossible for him. 

The vision reminds me that I need to “Let my hand be strong”.  For me this means to keep on speaking to whoever will listen, about the need to be including young people as the church today and not losing out on what ALL God’s people have to offer.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Does Theology Matter?

I’ve just been thinking about a situation where I had reservations about what the underlying theology of a course of action was, and indeed, whether there even was an underlying theology.  I was in conversation with some other Christian people about an aspect of social action and I was reflecting to myself about whether it matters what the underlying theology is if there are good results.  I was thinking about social transformation and a desire to transform the world from the way it is to the way it should be. 

It’s a bit like motherhood and apple pie isn’t it?  Who in their right mind would speak against transforming the world from its current state into something better?  But as I started to think about that idea I realised that theology does matter.  Theology tells me what is actually wrong with the way things are and tells me how it should be, and that will be different to someone with a different world view.  That doesn't mean that we can’t work together to tackle social issues, but if we do, then I think we need to understand where we’re coming from otherwise we might find ourselves at odds somewhere down the line.

For me theology does matter because it underpins everything I do.  It shapes who I think I am, who each young person I work with is, and what it is I am trying to do with them.  It also tells me what the transformation I’m wanting to bring about and the hope that I’m holding out are.  Without that foundation I’m not sure what my work would be.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Young People take another beating!

I’ve just seen the new advert encouraging participation in the elections for the new Police Commissioners.  See here for a news report including some of the ad:

It makes me so mad; it’s mostly images of young people being yobs!  Is this all that the new Commissioners will be responsible for?  Where are the images of white collar crime?  The credit card fraudsters?  The MPs claiming expenses? The bankers doing dodgy deals?  The newshounds bugging people’s phones?  In other words where are the images of adults committing crime?
Basically, the government want people to vote for another layer of elected officialdom, and because they can’t encourage us any other way they try to make us so scared of unruly yobs we’ll rush out to vote thinking we might make a difference.  To do that they turn yet again to the usual scapegoats – young people!  Young people do commit crime, but so do older people and actually David Cameron I’m more concerned about the level of criminality and corruption in government and financial services which goes unchallenged and unchanged than I am about anti-social behaviour by a minority of young people.  Show me an ad about a Police Commissioner that arrests those types of criminals and you might get me excited.

Perhaps if the budgets for youth work, family services, education and health weren’t being slashed all over the place, something could actually be done to remove the reasons why young people end up in some of the situations they do without trashing them as human beings.  Instead our taxes are being spent on elections for a totally unnecessary layer of government while ignoring the real problems that divide us.

I despair!  But not of young people…of the adults who govern us.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is Youth Work?

I just read this blog:

And felt I couldn’t not respond to it. I came to Christian Youth Ministry late in life, post children, and so had a choice in seeking a qualification that enabled me to work with young people. I did consider teaching, but in the end did the Youth and Community Work with Applied Theology degree with CYM (Midlands centre – the best IMHO). This means I looked at both ways of working and made some conscious choices, so I’ll respond to the point Gemma makes by saying why I chose Youth Work

“1) Lots of meaningful connection opportunities with actual young people”

Lots of face time, but at a ratio of 30 to 1 with a very prescriptive curriculum which restricts teachers to delivering certain things. Time constraints mean that there isn’t much space for creativity or spontaneity.

Power imbalance – young people have no choice about whether they are present, and this often means that their bodies are there but their hearts aren’t in it. For this, by definition, removes any meaning I want to find in my work.

“2) Measures of success that can be seen - you can measure your impact on young people"

But success in what – achievement of certain grades in exams isn’t the kind of “success” I’m looking for in my work. I also have very strong opinions that it isn’t the purpose of education; for me education is more to do with each young person becoming the best human being they can be. Our current educational system is about equipping young people to be units of economic production and consumption in a market place that doesn’t have jobs for all of them.

“3) Semi regulated hours - I know teachers don't work school hours but there is a rhythm to the hours they work”

Whether or not I have a rhythm to my life and work is up to me – many people in Christian ministry seem to operate on the basis that only chronic busy-ness and a state of near exhaustion are measures of the quality of their work. As a community of workers we rarely challenge this idea by actually trying to adopt biblical patterns of work and Sabbath that enrich us and our ministry. I see this a lot, not only in youth workers but in pastors and church leaders all over the place. I heartily recommend Ian Stackhouse’s marvellous book “The Gospel Driven Church” for an entirely different perspective.

“4) School holidays - I appreciate many teachers work during the holidays but they definitely get more than 4 weeks annual leave

My sister is a secondary teacher* and I know how much work she does at home in evenings and at weekend, how many times she goes in to school to do preparation or for holiday revision sessions, parents evenings, etc. Things have improved a bit recently, but it’s not a doss.

“6) Not having to live every six months wondering if funding for your post will happen”

I think the world of Christian Youth ministry needs to take a good hard look at how we resource the work we do. If we really believe that the work we do amongst young people who are NEET, young single parents, young offenders or whoever else, is part of the ministry of the church then we should fund it properly and control and manage it in the ways we think are right. If we take the government’s pound to deliver outcomes on their behalf, then we have to do it on their terms. Personally I think it’s appalling that really valuable projects with young people can operate on a knife edge all the time; it just confirms what young people already think: that they aren’t worth it, but that’s one that I need to have a go at the government for.

 “7) Regulatory provision for sickness, maternity & employee rights”
Everyone who is employed should get this – it’s the law.

“8) You can get a job as a teacher with or without a VAGINA”

I have a vagina, and, shock horror, it’s quite an old one! Plus I work within a denomination that isn’t doing terribly well about employing women ministers (the Baptists) and I take a lot of issue with that…all the time. But I’m still working and being paid for it. Yes the pay is poor, but it’s poor for secular youth workers too, because it’s such a poorly understood profession, and many of the pressures we face are the same for them too.

I think Gemma is right to ask whether the current model of youth ministry is sustainable, and I’m not convinced that it is, but I think that’s more to do with our current models of church and ministry rather than our employment provisions.

The questions I want to be asking start like this:

  • Why is “bigger” always better? We’re obsessed with numbers; numbers in our youth groups, numbers coming to Christ, numbers being baptised. 
  • Why are we entertaining young people instead of discipling them? When did we last tell our young people that the Christian life is hard and painful and will cost them everything? Then when they walk away from that, why don’t we let them go?
  • Why aren’t we challenging the model of church that keeps children and young people separate from adults, instead of working out how we can be together in a meaningful way?
So my youth worker friends – if the model isn’t working, what should it look like?

*And I respect and admire what she and her colleagues do enormously.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Standing tall

I really should stop looking at just makes me mad...although it's also starting to make me bored too so it won't be long.   But while I'm here, here's what's making me mad today:

Skinny cargo!!

Well, it's an example of it.   Can you see what I mean?  Let me tell you:  look at the way she's standing!  Have you noticed that not only do lots of women in fashion shots look so thin a good breeze would blow them away, they also stand as if they haven't quite learnt how to do it yet?   What is that strange stance for?  Toes turned in, legs slightly awkward looking; it's like those nature films of baby giraffes struggling to stand for the first time.  Since when did looking like you could barely walk upright become a standard of beauty for young women?  It has a weird kind of apologetic look about it, like we shouldn't really be out in public.

This is how a woman should stand; upright, feet firmly on the ground, ready for what she needs to do and making no apology for who she is or what she's doing.

Jessica Ennis not apologising for what she's doing

I've just been reading Tina Fey's great book Bossypants (thanks for the recommendation Becca) and she talks (a lot!) about what it is to be a woman in a male dominated industry.  She expresses her admiration for her female colleague whose response when a male colleague says he doesn't like a gag she has written says "I don't ****ing care if you like it"  In other words, no apology for failing to please, or for existing, or participating in the world.  I bet she stands like Jessica Ennis.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Writer's Life

I occasionally fancy myself as a writing type of woman; I read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and I admire and appreciate good writing.  I read critically and wonder if I could do better.  I’m supposed to be writing part of my dissertation right now, in fact, so I could argue that I am already writing as part of my career…but clearly not because I’m avoiding it by writing this piece instead.

You can imagine, therefore, how encouraged I feel to read the convoluted machinations that a highly respected and established writer and academic such as Mary Beard goes through in thinking about her writing.  You’ll also notice that my other avoidance tactic is finding interesting writing on the internet!

IMG_2065I’m also extremely jealous of her library bed and tidy study.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thoughts of a Grumpy Old Pinterester

When I’m at a bit of a loose end I quite like flicking through a magazine.  I haven’t got time to get involved in a good book, I just want to be a bit distracted by looking at some pretty clothes, something funny, a nice kitchen, or a new recipe.  I don’t take it too seriously and it is just something to fill a moment of quiet between one thing and the next.  Trouble is, I don’t often buy magazines so I don’t usually have any to hand.  That’s why I like Pinterest; it’s an easily accessible, ever updating magazine.

I’ve started to notice a few problems with it though.  Firstly, it works like pornography.  Those who talk about the effects of pornography say that although it isn’t technically infidelity, by thinking about someone other than your significant other you think about having someone else, you compare what you have with what you could have, you see other people having better things than what you have and you start to feel dissatisfied with what you have and then you feel unhappy.  Pinterest does the same thing; you go from “That’s a pretty bedroom” to “It’s prettier than my bedroom” to “Why does she get to have that pretty bedroom?” to “I hate my bedroom”.  Now, I love my home; we’ve lived there for nearly twenty years; it’s the home my husband and I have made for and with our two children and it contains more than just the stuff we own.  Of course I would change things if I could, but it works well enough and actually I can't be bothered with constant home improvement.  But I’m noticing a little worm gnawing at my contentment with it.  Pinterest!  I’m watching you!  I do not need a villa on a Spanish Island, or a free standing bath with spa jets.

The second thing I’ve noticed is the cute sentiments that get propagated around it in no time!  Things like this:

Really people?  Is that true or is it just a way to make someone feel better about not having the courage to sort out something in an honourable way that doesn’t destroy other people in the process?
Or this one:

Are you sure???  What sort of sick, masochistic God do you follow???  Please explain the theology of this?
And don't get me started on what people do with scripture!!!  Look at this:

Totally ignoring what the verse is actually about, justifying bad behaviour and worshiping the God of pulling yourself up by your own efforts!

Maybe we should actually analyse what the outworkings of these sentiments are before we scatter them around…the more they spread around the more people tend to view them as truth.  As I finally reach the stage of Grumpy Old Woman-ness I’m getting a bit outspoken about it.  If you follow me on Pinterest I’ve started a board called Things to Question.  Even if nobody else reads it, it makes me feel like I’m asking myself some important questions about what I’m seeing.

And finally, a big bee in my bonnet: so many images of women looking either like skeletons or like freaky body builders, with lots of exhortations to perform 3000 jumping jacks so I can look the same.  Occasionally images appear of curvier women, but sadly they are usually connected to dodgy sites!  Why are we doing this to ourselves?  Isn’t it enough that men do it to us, and increasing to themselves as well!  Let's have more of this:

I’m not even going to start on American understandings of cooking* but suffice it to say that I’m looking at Pinterest in a more thoughtful way these days.  

*No!  Opening 3 jars and adding them to a can of ready made “Biscuit Dough” does not constitute cooking from scratch.  And NO!  reducing the number of ingredients by using packets and jars does not make it a good recipe!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Handing on the flame Part Deux

On Saturday I blogged my reflections on the Olympic Opening Ceremony and had a few positive responses.  Since writing I’ve continued to think about what I mean and so I’m writing “Handing on the Flame, Part Deux” to carry on my internal conversation.  Feel free to join in.

Somewhere in the “Money” Chapter in Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says (my summary) that Money has spiritual power because we want it and hold on to it.  By giving it away we break that spiritual power and free ourselves to have the relationship with money that God intended.  He suggests that we give away money not for the good it will do the people we give it to, but for our own sake, for our own spiritual health.  I think it’s the same principle that’s at work in the idea of the year of Jubilee.  If, every fifty years you have to give land back to the original owner you can’t become dependent on it for your sense of who you are;  you always have to know that everything we have belongs to God.  It forces a radical, paradigm shift in your understanding of wealth, power and privilege; it stops you from creating an identity based on what you can hold on to and instead forces you into a radical reliance on who you are in God.

I think that the model suggested by the Opening Ceremony has the same effect.  The Olympic heroes were in effect saying “This doesn’t belong to us; it’s bigger than what we have been and what we want” and the same would be true in the church.  We think that we can’t let young people be involved in the running of the church because they aren’t mature and wise; they don’t know enough to run it as well as we do.  What we’re really doing, though, is hanging on to our power and privilege.  Maybe this is why so many found the ceremony so moving, and why some others found it so offensive.  It was moving because it offered an opposite vision of what could be, and it was offensive because it challenged people’s ideas about a world based on prestige and success.

Cyd Zeigler on said this, which rather epitomises this attitude:

“The grand finale, the moment I was waiting for most, was the revealing of the lighter of the flame. So many great options were floated out there...and they chose one more boring and more forced than any other I'd heard: Seven no-name young athletes. I'm sorry, you've got to earn that honor. You've got to achieve greatness before you get to light the Olympic flame. You've got to inspire a nation. Instead, the event producers decided to hand the honor to a bunch of kids.”

I rather think he missed the point; that by giving away the honour to “a bunch of kids” Danny Boyle did indeed inspire a whole nation and maybe even further afield.

The Opening Ceremony programme says this:

“But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”*

Maybe the same applies to the church: if we give the future of the church to our children, as terrifying as that sounds, the shift in our souls will be so profound that the church will be transformed into something we never dreamed possible. 

*Isn't it interesting that the image Boyle used is of Jerusalem, the city where God meets his people.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Handing on the flame

I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony last night and was moved in many ways, but the part I found most moving and resonant was the lighting of the cauldron.  There has been a tradition of the person lighting the cauldron receiving the highest honour, and it is given to an individual whose achievement is above and beyond any other.  The British media and blogosphere has been speculating about who will receive this honour, with some cynicism.  The underlying feeling has been that it will go to someone who doesn’t quite deserve it but who has managed to somehow wangle it because of privilege and position, and I must admit to sharing some of that cynicism.

How wrong I was!  The flame was brought into the stadium by someone who is indisputably our great Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave.  But then a miracle occurred.  He handed it to a group of young, unknown athletes.  The commentator Huw Edwards described it as “the transfer of the privilege and honour of lighting the flame.”  It was handed to seven unknowns, young people who are just starting out, as yet untried and unproven, but full of potential.  It was handed on by an older generation who recognised their potential and saluted and supported them in that.  The rest of us watched and cheered them on.  Huw went on to observe “Seven Great British Olympic heroes offering that honour to these young athletes”.  In other words it was freely given in recognition of hope in the future, offering, but not imposing on them, a vision of all that’s best in our life together.

It’s notable that it was given not to one, but to a team, as part of a ceremony that valued the contribution of not just the great and the physically able, but included the deaf, the old, the builders and plumbers, the Queen, children, nurses.  It was a ceremony that showed our pride in who we are and our hope for the future, served up with a dose of affection and humour.

It struck me forcibly that this is what the church could, and should be, in particular, and most importantly, the way in which we hand on the flame of faith to the next generation.  Let’s not wait until they have to tear it out of our cold, dead hands, by which time they have grown bitter and tired of waiting.  Let’s put our faith in them and the future and hand it on while they are still full of vision and energy, passion and life.  Let’s not keep the power and privilege to ourselves but lay it down in the hope that something new and vibrant will grow.  

I could go on about the changes that have occurred between how the Olympics was in 1948 and how it is now; training methods, the style of the opening ceremony, the nations taking part, the addition of technology.  Of course the 2012 Games don’t look like the 1948 games, but it’s still the Olympic Games and no amount of politicking or abuse of its values seems to damage what it is.

Paul said, in his letter to the Philippians: “…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. And maybe this should offer a vision for us not just as individuals but as a whole people of God.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Women in the church

I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evan's  blog and others connected with it for a while now, and have been really interested in thinking about the role of women in the church for years now.  I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember and have been fortunate enough to be an ordained minister in a denomination that doesn’t have a problem with that (in theory…but practice is a bit of an issue in place, but that’s a whole other blog).

Today I read this blog  (These square pegs) and the comments associated with it.  I also recalled the different conversations I’ve had over the years with people, mainly women, who talk about how they like the church community they’re part of but struggle with the attitude and teaching on women’s roles in the church.  I’m particularly moved by the depth of emotion expressed by Liz when she talks about how often the church she is part of now talks about Colossians 3.  Please note this isn’t directed at those folks who say that they don’t like the complementarian position but that it’s not a deal-breaker for them – my questions are aimed at those who expressed a lot of pain and frustration about it.

The question I want to ask Liz, and all those other women who have “settled” in a church that has a complementarian position is “Why do you stay?”  If you are so upset and so hurt by the position your church community takes why do you stay silent?  Why do you give tacit support to a structure that makes you scream at the injustice?  There are plenty of loving, godly church communities where your many gifts and callings can be recognised and where you will not have to sit in the Lord’s house every Sunday feeling so righteously angry.  Is it because to leave would be uncomfortable? Might split your family?  Might mean you would have to say out loud what you think?  Because you’re probably right.  My next question is “What injustice would your church community have to commit before you felt you had to speak up?”

If you did speak up about it a lot of other people might say they feel the same way.  And if you did leave and remove your support and encouragement, and all the other women did the same then the men leading these unjust structures might actually be forced to read their bibles again.  And then maybe your daughters wouldn’t have to be so hurt by their fathers in the way that you were.

Sometime later:
I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but never got round to posting it but then I read Sophia Network's blog and was reminded of it.  I was particularly stirred by this:
Malcolm Duncan mar11It strikes me that to believe in something means that you must live out of that belief – so that is what I have done. I am deeply uncomfortable with the view that you hold a position, but do nothing about it because of fear of what others might say, think or do. So for me, being committed to the view that I hold meant that I could not secretly hold it, but must play my part in advocating it, teaching it, practicing it and living it out – albeit within the context of Christian community, sensitivity and seeking not to be an offence to others. I cannot control whether other people are offended by my view – but I will not pretend not to hold it.
And I was stirred up enough to say my piece as well; I’m sorry if doing this causes some offence, particularly to my sisters who have already been wounded by the churches they belong to, but if you’re sitting in a church that makes you feel less valued because you’re a woman, please consider speaking up, or leaving it.

I also want to thank Malcolm and other brothers like him who see this as a gospel issue and are not prepared to remain silent.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sticks and Stones...

…may break my bones but words will never hurt me.  It just not true though is it?  The words we use, and the way we use them can be directly hurtful, or can perpetuate stereotypes and understandings that need to be challenged.

A set of phrases I have occasionally challenged are those that suggest that bravery is a male attribute.  This is perpetuated in phrases such as “He screamed like a little girl” which suggests that such a person’s courage has failed them because everyone knows that women aren’t brave!  Tell that to….Oh any of the brave women in history!

The other phrases that are used are variants of  “Grow some” (meaning grow some testicles, i.e. become a mature man), or more obviously “Man up, mate.”  Arguably, from one man to another these last two could be commenting on age and maturity rather than gender, in which case the use of them could be justified.  My worry is that I’ve heard them used among young women as well and I’ve pondered what equivalent women could use when encourage one another without diminishing them as women.

So Ladies/Women/Wimmin (use as preferred), if we are going use colloqialisms, I offer you:

“Come on! Grow some boobs”  and “Woman up!”  

Product Image
M&S Finest :-)
I also like, but can’t claim credit for: “Put on your big girl pants!”  I said the first two to a young woman colleague and they made her laugh…and then say “Yes, I need to”

In my head they create an image of women rolling up their sleeves, standing up for themselves, getting dressed to take on the big wide world on their terms, and that’s an image I like.  So please don't be offended if I urge you to grow some boobs and put on your big girl pants - I'm encouraging you to step up to all you are as a woman, with pride, courage and dignity, in underwear that says practical, sexy, pretty and comfortable.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

A vote of thanks

I would like to take this opportunity to offer a vote of thanks to the makers of Snow White and the Hunstman.  Because I have spent slightly more than two hours of my life this evening watching this film I now no longer need to watch any of the following films:

  • The Lord of the Rings series
  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Narnia Series
  • El Cid
  • Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves (or possibly the other one with Russell Crowe which I haven’t seen)
  • Princess Mononoke (and possible most of the rest of Studio Ghibli)
  • Avatar
  • Disney’s Snow White

Which, allowing an average of two hours per film makes roughly 59 hours saved (Add a further six hours for the extended editions of LOTR).  It also saved me the time and expense of taking a holiday on the lovely Pembrokeshire coast since the scene that was reminiscent of Charlton Heston’s beach cavalry attack in El Cid was filmed on Marloes Sands.

I am using the time saved to ponder the following questions:

  • Why is Kristen Stewart unable to keep her mouth closed?  She made a couple of valiant attempts in this film but generally failed.
  • What was the back-story on the Bridge Troll? Why did SW’s scream defeat him?  Would he go back to his old ways until the Three Billy Goats Gruff come along?  I suspect there was some more story here but it’s on the cutting room floor – should have cut the whole story-line IMHO.
  • What were the likes of Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan et al thinking, other than “Nice pay check”?
  • Where was Warwick Davis and the rest of the band of short actors who have been doing good work in the past few years (mainly in the above mentioned films)?  Surely they are the go-to place for any dwarf casting?  But seriously, it’s a bit like blacking up Sir Laurence Olivier to play Othello!
  • Why did the dwarves not figure out that one of them was doomed, since we started out with eight?  Have they not read Brothers Grimm?  It couldn't have been more obvious if he’d been wearing a red top!
  • Wouldn’t it have been funny if, when SW awoke from her ‘death’ her eyelids popped open to reveal red vampire eyes?

On the plus side this film would pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours since the two female leads do talk about things besides men for most of the film, as do the other female characters.  The only bum note was when SW was looking for volunteers for her army, which she was planning to lead, she asked “Who will be my brother?”  Bit of a stopper for the many women who were portrayed as fighters, particularly the lake women, who had trained themselves to fight.  Especially as the army then actually did appear consist entirely of men, apart from SW herself.  Still it was nice to see a woman saving herself through her own integrity and ferocity, while men played a supporting role. 

I also had a nice night out with my daughter; her verdict, as we stood up to leave, "That was the crappest film in the world, and the woman behind me kept kicking me"

Monday, June 04, 2012

A modest proposal

A few years ago I read somewhere* of a proposal that when a couple with children split up, the house and the money needed to maintain it as a household should remain with the children, and the two parents should alternate which of them lives there.  This is in contrast to the current arrangement where two parents maintain households and the children move back and forth between them.

The thinking behind this novel idea was that if we say that the needs of the children come first, then what children need is a stable, consistent home environment, and the fact that the two parents no longer want to live together shouldn’t deny them this.  They should have their home, which is near their school and their friends, with their own rooms and possessions in one place.  The parents on the other hand, if they want to be part of their children’s lives, have to shuttle back and forth between their children’s home and any other home they might want to have.

You can see straight away that adults would complain that this idea is completely unworkable because parents would never know where they were, they would get confused, they wouldn’t have the things they need around them, they would never be able to relax, nowhere would feel like home, and they might have to spend time away from a new partner they love and want to be with.

But this is what children of separated parents have to go through all the time and it just adds to the pain and suffering that the breakdown of a relationship causes.

I’m actually not telling this story because I have an axe to grind about divorce, which is going to be painful and difficult no matter how it’s managed, but because I think our response to this proposal says something very important about the way we view children in our society.  We use a rhetoric of them being important and that their needs must be met first, but our actions say something different.  The axe I do want to grind is that this is what happens in church life.  We say that children matter, that they are important, but, when it comes to putting their needs before our own, we somehow miss the mark.

Us Baptists have been talking recently about re-imagining the future, but I wonder what church would look like if we wiped the slate completely clean and then started again with what children need to grow in faith?  Then fitted adult needs in after that…recognising that some might not be met because our best has been used for the children.  It would as startling and radical as the proposal I started with, but it might also mean that we assure the future not only of the children who grow up through it, but of the church itself.

How are you reacting to that???  What does your reaction mean?

*If anyone can tell me where I read or heard it I'd be grateful

A little note of amusement...

You might have noticed I didn't post much in May...I was amusing myself with a little experiment.  I noticed that I got fairly steady traffic on the blog and it seemed to be heading mostly for a post about Lord of the Rings.  I wondered what that meant.  so I haven't posted anything and have thereby possibly discovered the secret of sustaining moderate blog traffic:  Write a post about LOTR.  It might help that I mentioned Legolas's blonde hair, but basically a whole load of folks (20-30 a day) looking for something interesting about their fave film ended up on my blog.  I'm just thankful none of them have been rude about it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Why I love young people

The main reason I am a youth worker is that I love young people (in a good way ;-)  I love their energy, their enthusiasm, their fresh look at life, and I especially love it when they see through stuff.

It's part of the tragedy of being a teenager that there are a lot of people trying to get them to believe a whole lot of rubbish about themselves, like "You have to be thin/buff/blonde to be beautiful" or "There is no hope for you".  I have to say that the intarwebs haven't always helped with this.  Images of what beauty is supposed to be are plastered everywhere, stories about what a waste of space teenagers are abound, and places like Facebook and Tumblr repeat and spread banal sentimental messages that actually mean very little.  Sometimes young people fall for these and post them*.  But ocassionally a very savvy young person spots the underlying BS and calls it!  Like this image:

Don't tell me what to do!

Kudos to the girl in the bottom pic!  And other young people:  don't be afraid to ask what's really going on!

*Although they may repost them because they express something the young person couldn't find words for themselves and if that's the case that's OK :-)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lunchtime Musings

I had a sneaky Whopper for my lunch today – a occasional guilty  pleasure*.  And while I was there I took this picture:

I spent the time it took me to stuff my face pondering this sign and came to the conclusion that although there is a blatant lie being proclaimed, there is also a beautiful nearly truth.  It turned my brief lunch into a moment of prayer and worship.

The lie is that I have the right to have what I want exactly when I want it.  The UN Convention on Human Rights suggests that I do have some rights simply because I am a human being, and my citizenship of the United Kingdom confers on me some more rights.  My marital status and employment give some more rights and as a consumer I have rights that relate to the goods and services I buy.  But no-one, anywhere, comes in any way close to giving me the right to have what I want, when I want it.  I sometimes do actually get what I want; I got a Double Whopper with Cheese, but I had to wait until after the meeting I went to in order to get it.  I also sometimes get something when I want it; I usually get dinner at around 6 ‘o clock, but what it is depends on a whole load of variables and I sometimes have to eat what I’m given, not what I want.

This lie is the lie that consumerism tells us over and over again and it’s very damaging because it sets us up for disappointment when life behaves normally and gives us a mixture of good and bad based on often random and arbitrary circumstances.  It’s also very ironic because it carries a suggestion of ultimate and total freedom, whilst actually catching us in the most insidious trap.  Do you notice that they say "We may be the King?"  They don't let you have all the power.  In fact if you went in and ordered a KFC you would find out they they are pretty much in control**.

The beautiful nearly truth in the poster is this: I am Today’s Special, and tomorrow’s and the next day… But I’m special not on the menu of life, but on the menu of God.  He knew me before I was born and my name is written on his hand.  In response to BK I say “You may be King of Burgers, but Jesus is King of Kings, and I my friend, am a child of his Father, which makes me a Princess.” 

*It was a celebration treat for finishing my essays, which is why I haven't been around much.
** Wouldn't you just love to demand a Big Mac and then threaten to sue them under the Trades Descriptions Act when they refuse???

Sunday, April 08, 2012

More motherly pride

A few weeks back I wrote about how proud I am of my daughter's many accomplishments.  Today I'm going to give a shout out about my equally talented son.  Tom is a film maker...we bought him a Macbook when he was about 14 because we wanted to support his very talented music making, and then he discovered its potential for film making.  If you go to his Youtube channel (Tom's Youtube) you'll see how he has developed his skills over the past couple of years.  He isn't one for school work, but his application and focus to becoming a better film maker has been remarkable and the results are amazing.

His latest offering shows how accomplished he has become:
Tom's latest masterpiece

I have to say that it isn't for the fainthearted, as he likes to play with some quite gory special effects, (I can vouch for the fact that no-one was hurt in the making of this film), so if you are a bit sensitive it might not be for you, but if you can take a look I think you'll be impressed at his technical and creative skill...I know I am.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

John 15...

Jesus said:
I’m the mobile phone network and you are the iPhones.  If you don’t have my SIM card installed in you, you can’t connect to the network and then you can’t use all your apps.  If you aren’t connected to the network then you are a useless bit of kit and God will tidy you away.  But when you have my SIM card fitted in you, you will be able to be useful and helpful, with lots of good apps and people will know that you are connected to a really good network.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spiritual Director? Problem solved!

I’m doing a lot of extremely heavy reading about the theology of Baptist Church meetings for an essay and I need some light relief in between times.  I’ve returned, as I often do, to an old favourite; the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch.  This series of six novels portray the history of the Church of England in the 20th Century through the lives of some fictional clergymen (they were all men in those days!) from different wings of the Anglican Church as they wrestle with the inner and outer forces at work in their lives.

I first read them probably in the late nineties and have re-read them regularly ever since with a growing sense of understanding.  When I first read them the human stories were gripping but I didn’t understand the references to theologians and theological movements, which didn’t matter in the least.  Now I have done a bit of reading and so when one of the protagonists protests about Karl Barth’s influence on the neo-conservative movement I actually get what they’re talking about and I feel a little frisson of pleasure about it (that’s how sad I have become!) as well as still enjoying the tales of people trying to serve God whilst grappling with their human failings.

In my minister’s cluster we were recently discussing spiritual direction; what it’s for, the pros and cons, how to find one and what to look for in one.  I said “Has anyone read the Starbridge novels, because if you have, you’ll understand when I say I want Jon Darrow for my spiritual director”.  A colleague started nodding and a side discussion of the novels ensued, with us discussing which character we would want for our spiritual director!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Return of the Prodigal

I was reflecting on this famous painting the other day. Actually at a very nice lady’s funeral – she liked the painting so it was on display during the service.  As I looked at it I was dramatically struck, in a way I hadn’t been before, of the postures of the three main characters.  The son is, as might be expected, kneeling abjectly at the feet of his father.  He looks tatty and half-starved, because he is.  He’s made a big mess-up and he knows it and he hopes the father will allow him to work as a servant on the farm.  The father has responded to this by embracing the son; his arms enfold him, drawing his face into the father’s robes, surrounding him with the warmth and safety of his cloak.  What a rush of relief the Prodigal’s heart must feel to be pulled back into the familiar smell and feel of his father’s love.  The father’s face is gentle and accepting, full of love.

But off to the side is another figure, and to me he almost looks incidental to the painting, like he wandered in by mistake.  He seems to unbalance the picture, and simply stands staring down at the display in front of him, hands protectively across his chest.  He is richly dressed, and his face appears to be disapproving and remote.  Who is he?  He could be a passing official, a customer, anything unconnected with the story.  But he is actually the older brother.  He is the one who stayed with the father after the son left, but it doesn’t look like he had much joy of it.   I don’t know what your family is like; mine isn’t super close, but I can say for definite that if one of my siblings disappeared and was thought dead I would be heart-broken.  And if that sibling then returned after some time I would not be standing around looking disapproving.  Despite all our ups and downs I love my sisters and brother and their safe return home would make any differences and squabbles trivial compared to the great joy of knowing that my family was once more safe and whole.  I would be happy for my parents, having watched them suffer a period of sadness thinking they had lost a child.  To know that they didn’t have to live with that pain any more would mean something to me.

That’s the point of the story though.  We’ve lost sight of it because of its familiarity, but Jesus was talking to a group of religious leaders who were moaning that he was welcoming the wrong sort, and this was his response to that.  Because for the last two thousand years we’ve identified with the younger son, we haven’t noticed that we might have become the older son.  We are safe at home in church where we have everything the way we want it, but when younger sons turn up having made big messes we are more interested in the rules they have broken than the knowledge that our family is whole again.  That’s what struck me about the painting: the thing that is so wrong about the painting is not the son or the father’s behaviour, it’s the older brother whose posture jars so badly.  He shouldn’t be standing out there looking daggers, he should be in the thick of the embrace of his family.

There was a delicate synergy at work here, because the lady whose funeral I was at was a member of the welcoming team at church and she was one of the most welcoming and embracing people I knew.  She had a way of offering a kindness and acceptance to all who came through the door that was truly beautiful and she will be greatly missed by many.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

More on my talented daughter

Very atmospheric
My daughter Ellie is going on a trip to Kosovo this summer with the church youth group.  They’re going to help out in an orphanage and spend some time seeing what it’s like there.  The group have been coming up with a variety of schemes to raise money for their trip, such as car washing and baby sitting.  But Ellie had a stroke of genius:  Ellie’s Pop-up Restaurant.  For £10 a head Ellie will cook and serve a three course meal (chosen from the menu she has designed) at our house.  For a further £10 her friend will baby-sit.  All the money goes to the Kosozo trip.


Yesterday evening was her opening night, with the lovely S family coming for dinner.  Ellie spent the afternoon preparing food and laying the table.  The menu was:

  • Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
  • Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Raita and Naan Bread for Mrs and Ms. S
  • Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese for Mr S
  • Banoffee Pie for Mr & Mrs S
  • Warm Chocolate Brownie for Ms S
  • Coffee and Mints

Chocolate Brownie
 The table looked lovely and the food was delicious, and Ellie cooked and served everything with great style and skill.  The S family were great customers and enjoyed themselves a lot.  Ellie was tired but happy and hoping for more bookings.  

Banoffee Pie
There’s plenty of  Saturdays between now and August when they go, so book early to avoid disappointment J

Friday, March 02, 2012

A new source of reading goodness

I love reading – if I’m stuck somewhere and I’ve got nothing to do I have to read something, which is one of the reasons I love my iPhone so much.  As long as I’ve got some internet access I can get something to read to pass the time.  I just wish I could read while I’m driving.  And before you shout, talking books don’t work for me quite so well, but they’re better than nothing.

So when I find a new resource with lots of things to read I get very excited and want to share the love.  Third Way magazine has been around for ages (since 1977 apparently) and you can pay £38 for a year’s subscription, which I’m thinking about doing.  But, while I’m thinking about that, the archives from 1977 to 2008 are available online via Google Books!!! That’s 31 years of 12 issues a year available for online perusal!

Oh dear…this is going to be a serious challenge to my self-discipline when I’m supposed to be reading for an essay.

You can find Third Way here and there’s a link in the tabs to the archives.  Happy Reading.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pet Peeve

Sometimes I find myself sitting down with a cuppa and flicking on the TV and it just so happens that the program that is on is "UK Border Force".  I have to say, it's the bottom end of reality TV and I'm not sure why I bother.

There is one feature though that it has in common with many other crime reality shows and that is the way many in the law enforcement community refer to "males" and "females".  In my first life I was a zoologist (briefly) and these terms are used as nouns to describe animals when you need to distinguish gender.  So if you're watching a group of elephants you might say "The large male is walking towards the females".

In my mind this is OK when you're talking about animals but not humans.  When you refer to someone as a man or a woman you also make a statement about their humanity because these words are only ever used about humans.  When you use male or female as a noun when talking about people it seems to me to have a de-humanising effect.

So to return to UK Border Force; the Calais immigration team have found a group of Vietnamese immigrants stowing away in a truck. One of the team says, in a very sympathetic tone "Oh no, there's a couple of little females in here".  In my head she's found a box of kittens, or a nest of baby mice.  But she hasn't, and her tone, which is meant to sound kind, I find disturbing.  What she has found, cowering behind the cargo, is two young women.  She treats them kindly and carefully, given that she has to arrest them as illegal immigrants, but she has already done the worst thing she can to them by referring to them in a way that reduces their humanity and infantilises them.

It something that seems to happen a lot in law enforcement reality shows; police officers talk about IC3 males, or young white females.  They may be criminals but they are actually Asian men and white girls.  It seems to be a result of creating jargon to categorise and encode people for reports, but there's a danger that, as people stop talking about men and women and start using these oddly biological terms, we reduce human beings to animals not only in our paperwork but in our minds, and once people become less than human in our minds it makes it easier to treat them as less than human.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What is it Bartholomew?

“What is it Bartholomew?”

“Sorry to bother you Peter, but these kids want to see the Master”

Peter steps out of the doorway.

Twitching about behind Bartholomew are a handful of tatty looking children.  The oldest looks to be about ten, and she’s holding a chubby toddler.  The toddler looks sleepy and has obviously recently eaten something sticky; his hands and face are glazed with a mixture of it and some unpleasant looking mucus.  The girl looks scrawny and wary; her jeans are a bit too small and her coat has a rip in the sleeve.  She’s obviously the leader of a group that includes an assortment of children aging from about four up to a similar size to the girl.

Peter’s heart sinks.  Being the Master’s tour manager is hard enough, what with the groupies, the poor, and the downright wicked, never mind the gang of sick people hovering and humming at a distance like flies.  But children!

Each person takes up so much time; they whine about problems and illness and ask stupid questions.  And the information pack won’t shut them up; they just want to get in to see him in person.  The Catering Manager is trying to get hold of him, the on-site hygiene facilities team has a broken down truck and that Health and Safety Risk Assessment Document is only half done.  Peter can’t remember the last time he was in bed before midnight and he has a constant tweak of pain just above his right eye.

Peter muses about how it all started.  Andrew said he was a wonder worker and Peter instantly saw himself as a big man, a man on the way, a man of importance.  He never thought he would be worrying about Portaloos.

And now this!  He takes Bartholomew off to one side. 

“The thing is” he whispers “The thing is, the whole operation’s geared for adults.  If we’re going to let children in we’ll have to provide chaperones, there’ll need to be a safeguarding policy, We’ll have to get everybody CRB checked.  We’ll need to get changing mats.  It’s all just too complicated”

Bartholomew nods.

“But they’ve been waiting all day” he presses.  “They’ve driven me crackers.  They’ve climbed on everything, eaten everything they could find, the baby has been sick twice, and weed on my shoe.  I swear one of those boys has been picking pockets, and they’ve been shouting rude names at the old ladies”
“Well that settles it” says Peter decisively “We can’t let kids like that in.  And in any case they won’t understand what he’s talking about; I hardly do a lot of the time”

“But they’ve waited all day”

“A problem, Peter?”

Peter spins round.

“No Master, we’re just getting rid of them.  Sorry to have bothered you with such a rabble”

The Master sighs and grins at Peter and Bartholomew, then he sits down on the step and beckons to the children.  He takes the snotty baby off the girl and cuddles it onto his lap.  It promptly wipes its face on his shirt and falls asleep. 

“So what are your names then?  Come and tell me where you’re from”

The children gather round, and the waiting queue of people sees what’s happening and comes over to listen. 
The Master draws one of the little boys towards himself and puts his arm round the boys shoulder.  The boy relaxes and leans against him.

“Let me tell you what my Father’s Kingdom is like”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Light of the world

I’ve spent the morning as I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks, looking for and reading resources  about the place of the child in the church.  It’s for an essay I’m writing but it’s also my pet subject, being a youth pastor and all.  As I was electronically ‘leafing’ through an issue of Theology Today I came across this:

Harold McCurdy  
The acolyte,
A little girl in white,
Stands tiptoe in her sandals
To reach the candles. 
The flames flare,
Lengthen, grow steady there,
In silence celebrating
The Word we are awaiting, 
 And the Word already bright
In the small acolyte
Who, tiptoe in her sandals,
 Lighted the candles.
The more I read it the more it seeps into my heart as I reflect on the idea that not only do I minister to the child because it’s my job, but that somehow the child ministers the Word to me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Am I being persecuted?

Every so often something happens to create a flurry of news about Christians being under siege in the UK.  There’s been another couple of examples this week, and so various commentators and websites have a go around things like:
  • ·         This never happens to Muslims/hindus (insert other faith of choice here) because that wouldn’t  be politically correct (the Left Wing/Labour conspiracy argument)
  • ·         Christians are being persecuted and they shouldn’t be because this is a Christian country
  • ·         All religions are fairy tales so no religion should be allowed to say or do anything in public

And so on.

I’m a Christian, so I’m coming at this from a particular point of view.  I’m also a minister so I have a public role, and am involved in some community things because of it.  I do feel slightly irritated about things like the anti-gay B&B owners row, because it is true that many Jews and Muslims  have issues with homosexuality in the same way many Christians do, and for the same reasons, but they don’t seem to find themselves in the media spotlight in quite the same way.

However, I don’t think that Christians are being persecuted in this country.  I can say and do mostly what I like, as long as I don’t break the law, and I don’t feel that I am in danger of my life because of my beliefs.  There are Christians in the world who cannot meet together to worship without fear, or who are imprisoned or executed because of their faith.  That’s persecution. 

I also don’t feel we are particular victims of any kind of campaign.  I think we sometimes fall foul of the complex web of tolerances and freedoms that are at work in British society at the moment.  This web means that there is freedom of speech, but not if what you say incites racial hatred.  There is freedom of sexual expression, but not if you want to have sex with children.  There is freedom of religion, but not if you are teaching killing people as part of your religion.

In my view, as a Christian, I have to earn the right to a public say on things by what I am involved in.  So in my role as a Youth Pastor I am talking to the local council as they build a new Young People’s centre.  I get to be involved because I am encouraging my youth group to get involved in their community through this.  I don’t get asked because I’m a church leader, though, and it wouldn’t be right if I did.  And I definitely don’t expect to be invited to say a prayer at any point – why in earth would I?  However, I do expect to be able to talk about faith matters with young people if that’s what they want because that’s enshrined in the government’s own agenda for young people*. 

I also wouldn’t want there to be religious exception clauses for matters of conscience.  That’s a slippery slope I don’t want to see.  If we had that, then some sections of the community could argue that it’s alright to mutilate a woman’s genitals when it is done for religious reasons, or that it’s a religious practice to beat up a child because they are a witch.  If I had a job which challenged my conscience then I have to make a choice between staying or leaving, and would have to choose leaving.

As Christians we need to remember our founder’s words about losing our lives, taking up our crosses and be prepared to not grasp at equality but to be servants to the world.  Salt is strong, with a powerful flavour, yeast has an amazing effect on dough, but both disappear into the foods they are flavouring, preserving and leavening.

And we definitely should not respond like the good folks of Cranston, Rhode Island who made death threats against 16 year old Jessica Ahlqvuist and referred to her as an “evil little thing” because she claimed that the display of a prayer on school premises violated the 1st Amendment of the US constitution and went to court to make her case (and won).

*Every Child Matters

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A blog about Ellie

Ellie has just been reading my blog and wants me to write something about her.  So what can I tell you about Ellie.  She’s fourteen years old and turning into a woman before my eyes.  Sometimes the way she does it is absolutely glorious; sometimes it’s more complicated but she’s getting there.  She’s very clever, she’s good at languages and science, she’s creative and has a great sense of fun.  Her bedroom is full of things she’s made or altered; at the moment she’s into decorating things with nail varnish and the results are reminiscent of aboriginal art in their flowing beauty.
Ellie's art

I think she’s inherited my sense of justice, so she often gets angry about things that she thinks aren’t fair and I’m pleased about that.  She is developing a finely tuned sense of what’s right and wrong, and has a deep desire to do good, rather than evil.  She’s working out what that means for her, and how she can win her inner battles and she’s often very courageous in how she does that. 

My hope for her is that she will be able to grow into a woman who is confident about her personhood and womanhood.  I want her to know deep in her soul that she is ultimately and inherently valuable and precious; that she is precious because she is a woman and a human being.  I wish the world would be easier for her as a woman, but I fear that it isn’t.  I see the pressure on teenage girls to focus on their looks, to be attractive in the eyes of men, and to ignore the beauty of their inner selves and I want to help Ellie to be strong enough to know that her inside is what matters.

I want her to be someone who is known as just, kind, and gentle in heart.  I pray that she will know Jesus as her first love, but in the end that’s between her and him.  I don’t care what she does for a living, but I want her to stand on her own two feet and know the worth of hard work, done well.  Most of all I want her to be loved; she is now, me and her Dad love her to bits, but I want her to love herself as well.