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plumsSlow food is about seasonal ingredients, patiently nurtured, carefully prepared, lovingly cooked.

The ingredients of ‘slow mission’ are people and the Christian gospel; and also, seasons, brokenness, diversity, giftedness and time — things we need to keep reminding ourselves of.

Slow mission is about trying to make the world better by applying the whole gospel of Christ to the whole of life. It’s about using what gifts we have for the common good. It moves at the pace of nature. It respects seasons. It is happy with small steps but has a grand vision. It knows of only one Lord and one Church. Making disciples of ourselves is as important as making disciples of others. Diversity is embraced. Playfulness is recommended.

A fresh entry comes out about once a week. The idea is to learn together and encourage each other. Comments and guest blogs are welcome. Each entry is bite-sized, 500 words or less. Please do subscribe, join in, enjoy.

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Slow mission values

Marwa_Morgan-It's_still_early_for_the_moon_to_rise
Marwa Morgan ‘It’s still early for the moon to rise’ @Flickr

‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.

I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.

Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:

Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?

Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.

Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.

To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.

Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)

Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.

Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.

Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity.  What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.

Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.

Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.

‘Trust in the slow work of God’

My blog’s theme, thought of by someone else and expressed better

esalen_pointhouse_092

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

2007, one of those dates

Some years just stick out in the cultural memory. 1812. 1914. 1945.

How about 2007?

The idea that ‘the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed’? Thomas L Friedman in his book Thank you for being late seems also to suggest that 2007 was the year the future started to get distributed.

This is also so scarily not-that-long-ago, as history goes, that I remember lots of it.

Late 2006: Google bought YouTube

  • Late 2006: the Internet had more than 1 bn users for the first time
  • Sept 2006: Facebook, previously just for students, was opened to the world
  • Jan 9 2007 at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world: I remember watching the preasentation on my mac.
  • 2007 Twitter spun off from an earlier startup and started to scale globally. I remember joining Twitter shortly afterwards courtesy of the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast — and finding nothing going on, came off again.
  • 2007 AT&T found a way to use software to expand its capacity. Its throughput of data increased 100,000% (in Friedman’s words) between Jan 2007 and December 2014
  • 2007 Amazon released the Kindle.
  • 2007: Google launched Android.
  • Spotify (though Friedman doesn’t mention it here) started in late 2008.

Of course other dates in 2007 may also make a mark on history:

  • Bulgaria and Romania join the EU, marking (in the light of future events) its maximum extent?
  • BNP Paribas blocked withdrawals by three hedge funds that were drowning in sub-prime mortgages, triggering the financial crisis.
  • (And there was a school shooting in the US, only a couple of dozen dead, not news at all.)

A phone in every canoe

Jungle transportAm enjoying Thomas L Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late which, at root, only tells us the boring story that the world is changing fast and how to adapt to it. What makes Friedman’s book interesting is his observation of how fast it is changing, and the thought that many things (laws, culture, life) have not caught up. Being a three-time Pulitzer prize winner, Friedman has some great examples too. Here’s one.

Lawrence (Larry) Summers, was a treasury official in the US. In 1988 — just 30 years ago — he was campaigning for the ill-fated Michael Dukakis and was picked up at the airport in a car with a phone in it. He was so excited that he used it to phone his wife and tell her.

Just nine years later, as deputy health secretary, Summers visited Cote d’Ivoire to open a village health care project that had been funded by American aid money. The village was remote enough for him to do the last part of the journey by canoe. As he was getting into the canoe for journey home, someone handed him a phone saying ‘Washington has a question for you.’ The world had gone from a carphone being an exotic luxury to a phone in every canoe in just nine years.

Hopefully not the apocalypse

Summarizing the environmental work to do

Thomas L Friedman’s stimulating book ‘Thank you for being late’ reminds us that the Holocene era, an era of unusual stability, has lasted just the last 11,500 years or roughly the same time we’ve had farms and civilisation.

Can we ourselves disturb this happy Holocene stability? It seems we can. Friedman summarizes eight different ways we may be inducing planetary organ failure, based on work by Rockstrom, Steffen and others in Science on Feb 13 2015:

  • Climate church – already reached Holocene-rocking levels (they claim)
  • Loss of biodiversity -ditto
  • Deforestation – ditto

Then he lists four more that his source considers within safe levels, but only just:

  • Ocean acidification
  • Freshwater use
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading (diesel particulates and whatnot)
  • Introduction of novel entities (plastics, nuclear waste etc)

Finally one example of where we did breach safe levels but are now retreating back to safety: stratospheric ozone.

A useful summary, then, of the big main environmental issues. Human civilisation has only thrived in the Holocene bubble. Will we pop it, a DIY apocalypse?  Or will we seek God for our ‘daily bread’ and manage to preserve our species and our planet for further adventures?

by - [-]
Price: - - - -

They do things differently there

Muscular theology

Lovely quote from Simon Sebag Montefiere in his endlessly interesting book Jerusalem – the biography.

‘Dyophysites fought their Monophysite protagonists in the imperial palaces and in the back streets of Jerusalem and Constantinople with all the violence and hatred of christological football hooligans’ (p189).

Jerusalem: The Biography

by Simon Sebag Montefiore [Phoenix]
Price: £9.99 - - -

The art of the perfumer

A draft of the new cover

Here are some Himalayas: Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. Handel’s Messiah. Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Here are some Alps: Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy of novels: Gilead; Home; Lila.

Here are some Lake District peaks: C S Lewis’ Narnia books.

Then there’s a long plain, and finally a crowd of dumpy little things, masses of them. What the dumpy things lack in altitude (and aptitude), they at least share in attitude with the great peaks. They want to do artistic things with Christian truth. It’s the art of the perfumer, done well or badly.

I don’t think there’s enough of this. Evangelicals–I am one–can be a menace with the gospel, painting it on the side of buses, delivering it without thought of context, speaking without listening or thinking.  Nothing subtle, gentle, artistic, beautiful or even fun. (At the worst.)

Just finished the third book in what is probably a trilogy of comic fiction novels. It’s called the Sump of Lost Dreams and will be out soon, joining Paradise and The Wheels of the World, comic fiction, dumpy stuff, fun though. Out soon.

I’m also redoing the covers of the first two titles to match – coming soon:

Religion in Europe – a public utility

They may not turn up, but that’s not the full story

Just read a fascinating interview about faith in Europe. It’s a little old now (2005) but one of those pieces that makes lights go on in your head. It was with Grace Davie, an Exeter University professor, the sociologist who popularized the term ‘believing without belonging.’

July 23 - Prague - Cathedral & Castle (10)A few highlights:

European exceptionalism

‘The patterns of religion in Europe are not a global prototype. They are, in fact, an exceptional case. European self-understanding is premised on the idea that modernization implies secularization. Europeans think that what Europe does today, everyone else will do tomorrow; they don’t find it easy to grasp that the European case is, perhaps, sui generis.’

Contracting out your faith

Religion is contracted out. Regular church attendance is small and declining. But trying asking a wider question – who do I want to take care of my funeral? A much higher percentage expect something of the church. ‘The historic churches are public utilities, and you expect public utilities to be there when you need them.’

‘Religion [is] performed by an active minority — that’s the belongers — but on behalf of a much larger number — that’s the wider population, who implicitly, not only understand but quite clearly approve of what the minority is doing. In other words, there is a relationship between the nominal member and the active member.’

‘Church leaders and churchgoers not only perform ritual on behalf of others, they also believe on behalf of others.’

This explains why newspapers write so much about what bishops believe and what the Church of England synod is up to. They are doing exactly what they also do with sport or politics — telling the crowds of semi-committed non-payers what the committed minority are getting up to.

Among further evidence for contracted-out religion she notes what happens in tragedies (people expect the churches to be open); and the resentment people feel about a parish church being closed (people feel it belongs to them).

Two models of church

Statistics can be misleading because change is happening within denominations as well as in newer denominations. This can hide working models (it does so in the Church of England). The two working models are:

  1. The evangelical, often charismatic church. ‘In every small town and city you will find a relatively successful evangelical church.’ The most successful include a charismatic, experiential element.
  2. The cathedral or city-centre church. ‘You can just go there, you can sit behind your pillar, nobody bothers you, but while you’re there, you experience traditional liturgy — very predictable liturgy, which is clearly important (everybody knows what’s going to happen). You have world-class music, sublime architecture and very good preaching. It’s a very high standard. If you look at cathedrals, they are filling at every level. They are filling with regular members, less regular members, pilgrims and tourists.’

These lead to two models of Christian involvement among Europeans: the convert (the one who joins the evangelical church) and the pilgrim or seeker. ‘Old-fashioned Biblicism, as well as liberal Protestantism, is in trouble … The purely cognitive does not seem to appeal to today’s population. And although you have two completely different patterns, in fact they have a common element. It’s not so much what you learn when you get there; it’s the taking part that is important. It’s the fact that you’re lifted out of yourself that counts. And the big one-off occasions — candlelit carol service or evangelical conventions — are what do the trick’. It’s a mistake to ‘divide Europe into people who practice [the weekly attenders] and people who don’t, because most people are somewhere in the middle.’

Share the gospel or preach good principles?

A randomised trial of religion has surprising results

Fascinating experiment in the Philippines. International Care Ministries (a Christian charity) helps the Philippines’ poorest people with a training course that contains anumber of modules. Some just explain the gospel. Others teach things like financial planning or health. The charity can deliver all the modules, or just some.

So they tried just the gospel portions on one large group of villages. They tried just the life-skills module on another group. Still another group got the full course. And for a control, they looked at villages where they did nothing. It was (reports the Economist, ‘a randomised controlled trial of religion’) 1

The group who got the gospel (6000 households, a large sample) became more religious, a bit gloomier about their prospects, and their incomes ‘had increased by 9.2% compared with the others. ‘

As the Economist points out, ‘For now, anyone recalling nudges from grandma urging wakefulness through tedious sermons should consider that she may have been right.’

Reasons to be cheerful

You gotta find them

SmileyCultivating a happy heart is good practice but not easy. Especially in sickness or trouble. I suggest trying (almost) everything. Here’s a partial list. Probably you’ll hit on something that will work eventually.

  1. Remember God has carried you before–squalling, wriggling–through many long nights. I don’t think he’ll drop you now.
  2. Try thanking him for his goodness.
  3. You might want to shout and scream, especially if no-one is about. I’m sorry to say I have sworn at God and banged my fist on the table numerous times. I think it’s OK doing this, not least because you feel a bit silly afterwards. God isn’t that bad and it’s just possible you are having a tantrum.
  4. Think of random good things that will probably come round again. After my coma my limbs didn’t work properly and so sometimes I fell over in the street. Usually it was just me and the dog, and the dog hadn’t read any of the right books and wasn’t much use. One time (I’m not sure I’m remembering this quite right but I’ll carry on) chin on curb, working out how to get up again, and not happy,  I recalled how my wife had discussed getting a convertible Mini next time we changed our car. It helped. We never did get the convertible Mini. But the main part of that thought– that one day I would be well again and she and I would buzz around and do stuff– was true and did the trick.
  5. Just decide to endure this time and forget the self-talk. Man up. Most things pass.
  6. Take a holiday from your sorrow. This is easier with longer-lasting things (stress, bereavement) than with the short-term (coughing up blood, say). By this I mean just go away and do something you enjoy. Watch a movie, go to work, go shopping. The pain will be waiting for you when you get back, but you may as well ease your stress levels for a bit.
  7. Remember there are people worse off than you. This is a cliche but done seriously, works sometimes.
  8. Remember all those sick, disabled people who nevertheless achieved great things. Lord Nelson, for example, constantly sick and forever losing bits, but still did stuff. Your illness may have meant cancelling cherished opportunities, but it’s not over for you yet. Not while you have light in your eyes.
  9. I think of some of my relatives. One grandad was gassed when scarcely out of boyhood. His dad was bed-bound with gangrene. Yet they lived good lives. My relatives. The shame of not fighting the demons like they did!
  10. Pray for people. Good in itself, it may also help remind you that not everything is about you and your problems.
  11. Pray for those caring for you. See the lines on their faces. That’s you causing those, in all their love for you. You’re lucky to be loved like that.
  12. Look through the cards and letters you’ve received, if you’ve received any. You matter to these people. They mind about you.
  13. Read some psalms and hang onto whatever you can find there that helps.
  14. Go for walks in your head. One terrible night in hospital I walked round Buttermere (a beautiful patch of water in the English Lake District) in my memory, a walk I know well, trying to make it last as long as possible and to recollect every part.
  15. Eat something, preferably something bad for you. In the Intensive Care ward at Papworth Hospital (a heart hospital) I once had a full English breakfast – the wise hospital itself served it.
  16. Faith, hope, and love, not as abstract principles but invested in God and people you love, really are greater than death and any loss. They can be like turning a boiler on in a freezing house.
  17. Treat yourself. That book you love? Get stuck in. If you’re as sick as you feel, this might be your last chance anyway.
  18. Work, even if only  a little. Do what you were made for. Feel the buzz.
  19. Think of your loved ones, stop moping, and fight for the chance to love them again.
  20. Say to yourself, ‘this light and momentary affliction is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.’  Plenty of other scriptures are in there; find them.
  21. Read or remember some old hymns. Those people had learnt how to turn sorrow into song.
  22. I have been injected with heroin on a couple of occasions. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, but it came in handy once when they were inserting a catheter into you-know-where.

 

God’s technology?

Factory 3Here’s a thing. Technology achieves many of the things Jesus came to do.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[f]

Recovery of sight to the blind? Most blindness today is preventable – by technology. Most blind people today are blind because they are poor, not because they are blind.

Good news to the poor? Set the oppressed free? Some principles that humans have worked out–the rule of law, free trade, mass-production, joint-stock companies– (arguably) seem to lift people out of poverty better than (say)  a career in slash-and-burn farming, or a culture of subsistence agriculture.

I believe that the link between ‘democracy’ and ‘people not starving’ has also been well made, even if you can’t necessary decide in that case which is cause and which is effect. But in this analysis ‘democracy’ would be another technology that works to relieve human suffering.

I would say that technology, understood as both gadgets and ideas, has done more to reduce human misery than almost anything else, and that process continues. Soon, for example, old people will get their mobility back once self-driving cars become popular.

What then is the link between the advance of (some aspects) of the Kingdom of the God and the rise of technology? Is it a coincidence that the Bible starts in a garden but ends in a city? Is anyone writing about this stuff? Would love to hear comments.