Starsuckers…

I watched some of this film the other day-

It is impossible to watch this and not think that there is something bonkers- something rather sick- at the root of our media machine (and therefore at the root of our society.)

We hunger for significance

And the primary way we demonstrate this is through the media machine

Which for its part will chase after any train wreck or celebrity breakdown in order to make a splash of attention, which will then convert into a splash of cash

And because train wrecks and celebrity breakdowns are unpredictable, then the machine manufactures them-

And we play the game- even though we understand that it is a game. Even though we know that it is all fake and phoney. Because what else is there?

How else might we aspire to significance?

How else might life be lifted from the humdrum but by the exposure of some soft subcutaneous celebrity flesh? (Apologies for the Dylan Thomas-esque excessive use of sibilance!)

And how, my friends, do we begin to do things differently? Because each one of our areas of expansion- even the Church- falls into similar traps. We elevate our celebrities, feed on them, then watch them fall.

The TFT counter culture anti-tabloid manifesto! 

So, here it is. Time to push back!

Lets be like fat men who walk past Macdonalds- at least some of the time…

  1. Stop buying tabloid newspapers. I know- they are entertaining, and you only buy them for the sport, but the ink is toxic- and it will stain all sorts of things that you are not immediately aware of.
  2. Let’s stop caring what celebrities think. Rather let’s look for other voices- those at the margins. Particularly those who are poor and weak.
  3. Let us focus on the small scale, not the big scale- let us hope to find our place in small communities as we set ourself towards simple missions.
  4. And as for the interweb- useful though it is- it is not democratic. It is not a means of levelling the playing field. That dream is dead. It reflects all the mess of wider society. So let us sometimes deliberately SWITCH OFF (Scary as it might be to those of us addicted to laptops and smart phones) and so something simple, and hospitable. Go for a walk with a friend. Visit someone who is lonely. Write a letter. Go to a pub and buy someone a drink.
  5. Value the small things. Celebrate them in verse and song.
  6. Cultivate individuality, not image.
  7. Create for the joy of it- not for the relationship to what is cool.
  8. And as for Christian celebrities- well lets make a rule that they can only be seen in public wearing clothes from Oxfam- one size too small. Or if that is too cruel, lets just have an open on going discussion about human frailties and how we measure the wisdom and worth of an individual.
  9. Gossip about goodness. Try to tell stories of people’s secret success and hidden kindnesses.
  10. All that is broken in you, all that is beautiful on others- these things are eternal.

Rob Bell’s upcoming book…

Rob Bell’s new book is already cooking up a storm- and it is not out yet.

It seems he is being accused of heresy.

Must read it.

Although I can’t help but feel just a little bit cynical about the fact that all this controversy will likely make the book a publishing phenomenon- which will certainly make his publishers very happy.

Twitter is going mad about it all apparently.

Although controversy as an end in itself is pretty pointless, some times perhaps it has to be confronted because the issues need to be cracked open by people who are prepared to say uncomfortable things. The book deals with an issue that feels absolutely of this time- right now. That is how we understand heaven and hell- the subject of a discussion in my small group as recently as last night.

I see that Rob Bell is at Greenbelt this year- I hope I get to hear him, if he survives the lynch mobs…

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Rob Bell in Scotland (and other places near you)…

So Rob Bell brings his brand of super hip preaching/performing to Scotland.

His latest tour is called ‘Drops like stars‘ and calls in to Perth Convert (Oops I meant to say CONCERT) hall on March the 19th- organised by Dundee for Christ.

Is it worth the trek accross hill and glen to hear him speak?

Despite my reluctance to endorse celebrity Christianity- I think the answer to this question is yes. I heard his speak at Greenbelt recently, and his disarming and deeply insightful intelligence was quite something. I went cynical, but came away a fan.

The blurb for this current speaking tour contained this

We plot, we plan, we assume things are going to go
A certain way and then they don’t and we find ourselves
In a new place, a place we haven’t been before, a place
We never would have imagined on our own,

And so it was difficult and unexpected and maybe even
Tragic and yet it opened us up and freed us to see
Things in a whole new way

Suffering does that—
It hurts,
But it also creates.

How many of the most significant moments in your
Life came not because it all went right, but because
It all fell apart?

It’s strange how there can be art in the agony…

The Drops Like Stars tour is a two
Hour exploration of the endlessly complex
Relationship between suffering and creativity—
And I’d love to see you there.

The ‘light and shade’ nature of Spiritual formation has been a recent theme here, so I will get hold of the book, even if I can not get to Perth…

And if there is a T-shirt…?

Measuring the well being of society…

Interesting discussion at the end of the ‘T0day Programme’ on Radio 4 this morning about how we might measure the progress and value added to members of society. You can listen to the clip here.

It describes how Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been asked to report to French President Sarkozy- and has pointed in the direction of sustainability and well being (happiness.)

joseph stiglitz

In the wake of the collapse of economic systems around the world, this is a common theme- old macro economic measures like Gross Domestic Product seem to have let us down. Measuring our prosperity and ability to acquire goods and services does not give us a reliable way to measure the worth of society- or the degree to which those of us within it live satisfied and fulfilled lives.

I think that we people of faith are called to be fully aware that this life we are given is precious, and to celebrate all that is good and beautiful within it. We Christians live as disciples of Jesus, whose had a whole different set of priorities…

We live in a time when something vital about the human experience has been somehow distanced from us by an empire whose culture (and very economic survival) is driven by a chasing after STUFF- ever more and more stuff to fill in the void.

We are none of us immune form the powers of the empire we live within. I just bought a new camera. It is a posh SLR that will take images that are much sharper, much richer. But I have a camera already that takes a lot of the photos on this blog. Cameras are TOOLS, and to have a better tool is no crime. But will it make me happier- or life deeper and more meaningful? Of course not. But the empire- this would try to convince me otherwise- and for a while, I even believe that it will too.

The radio 4 piece makes a point about happiness- which has been a theme on this blog before (See here for example.) My day job as a mental health manager brings me constantly into contact with issues of happiness and mental wellbeing. We are in the middle of planning a redesigned mental health service for Argyll, and one of the key government documents we relate to is this one- ‘Towards a mentally flourishing Scotland.‘ It makes interesting reading from a spiritual point of view- digging into how we might create opportunities for people to find satisfaction and build community as a prescription for health- both mental and physical.

I am just reading this book- Rob Bell’s ‘Jesus wants to save Christians.’

jesus wants to save christians

The book is a journey through the Bible, retelling the story of our human journey. Bell talks about the earliest stories from Genesis- the first family of Adam, Eve and their children Cain and Abel. And of how Cain and Abel argue over land and the acquisition of STUFF- marking the descent of humanity from simple subsistence towards more complex economic systems based around the possession of land, and the means to produce more than what is immediately needed in order to sell and barter for other goods.

You could say that this was the rise of humanity, and also potentially the seed of our destruction.

We moved from dependence and vulnerability- to independence and risk aversion.

We moved from community- to individualism and self reliance.

We moved from the need to follow the seasons and live within the natural environment- to the need for central heating, air conditioning, and ever more energy to sustain it.

We moved from a nomadic existence – to being anchored below the weight of what we own.

We moved from a need for God- to the need to manage God to make him fit the lives we now follow.

Could this be the prescription for fulfillment and happiness?

Dependence.

Community.

Vulnerability.

Connection to the earth that made us.

Living simply as pilgrims.

Living spiritually, in search of God.

What might society be like then?

A bit of Rob Bell…

We are just back from Greenbelt festival, where Rob Bell was one of the main speakers.

I tried to get to hear him speak a couple of times, but the queues to get into the venues were so vast that there was no chance. I ended up feeling slightly resentful of the ‘celebrity Christian’ phenomenon which grows through the money driven search for media friendly folk that can churn out marketable chunks of meaning to fill our empty lives with something that has the appearance of worth (did I say slightly resentful?)

However, I did get to see Rob Bell speaking outside in a Q and A session- and he was BRILLIANT. Witty, humble, uber-cool and spoke in a way that gathered deep thoughts and connected them with others. Greenbelt- if he comes back, perhaps you need to get him on the mainstage!

So forgive me for my moment of cynicism Rob- even if you appear to have forsaken all forms of clothing that are not black.

One of the questions asked was about the high cost of products (books, Nooma, speaking videos etc) and Bell did say that they were working on some free materials.

For now, here is one of the more recent Nooma from you tube- no doubt uploaded illegally, along with Spanish subtitles (I wonder if they decided to leave it up there unchallenged, particularly given the content!)

Thanks Rob…

Greenbelt reflections- 1

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We got back from Greenbelt Festival last night, after the long drive up north- which was mercifully free of bank holiday traffic problems.

We had a great time- and I am still processing some of the things that happened, so as ever, I will write some of my thoughts down here, which always kinds of help to congeal my fluid thought processes. I have some cool photos too that I will sprinkle around over the next few days…

Initial thoughts-

It was so good to be there with my friends- to share an experience, and to create something together. There was a wonderful moment when we were all together after our various journeys and I felt heart-full. It would have been even better if a few others could have made it- Janet, Lindsay, Sharon, Pauline, Dot, Aileen- you were missed!

I feel like I went to so little of the seminars/gigs/events this year. This was because we were busy, and because it was just so great to hang with my friends, and to have conversations with other people- some I met for the first time, others from the Tautoko network. This year, as ‘contributors’ we had a pass into the hospitality area for artists and speakers, with constantly available tea, and chances to sit and talk. I was able to spend time with Jonny Baker, Cheryl Lawrie (check out her lovely book on Proost!) , the Guys from Sanctus 1, Ambient Wonder, and Lisa and Julian from the network. The feeling of being part of a larger family is growing…

I also had a great chat in the ‘Jesus Arms’ with Alistair Duncan from The Garden in Brighton- they do some really interesting stuff down there!

Our worship event was packed, and lovely, and well received (more later!) My poetry reading did not seem to go so well- but then I would always feel this anyway!

I did get to some things- highlights were listening to Bishop Gene Robinson, Duke Special on mainstage, and of course, Rob Bell- who managed to exceed his reputation! I suppose the comic lowlight would be trying to sing hymns along with the Agents of the Future as part of the Sunday service- with different lengths of inteval between each line and verse as if to deliberately confuse! The ‘sharing of the peace’ by banking elbows so as not to give swine flu was very difficult to take seriously also.

Bishop Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson

We had three kids with us- Emily, Cara and Caleb. They had a great time- there is something safe about Greenbelt that allowed them all to expand and take some strides towards adulthood (adulthood laced with a lot of giddyness that is!) They all worked hard to help with the worship event.

On the way back up north, we met several times at service stations, and finally on the ferry. We seemed to go from a general discussion about whether we could justify the time and expense and distraction of going again next year, to a very specific chat about WHAT we would do next year…

I think it was a time of blessing for all of us.

Here is a bit of the Duke-

On being thankful to those who walk in a different direction…

A friend told me this story recently (Thanks Audrey- or Alistair?)…

Inside Victorian prisons, a regime of order and control regulated every aspect of the lives of the inmates. There was a way of doing everything- eating, sleeping, talking/not talking, working and…exercising. In this way it was hoped that people would find redemption and restoration to the society that the grew from.

Exercise was important- to escape the harmful miasmas lurking in the damp prison air- to fill the lungs with clear clean (but regulated) air. Exercising was done in in the exercise yard, and like all things, there was a right way to do this.

Men walked in clockwise circles, one behind the other.

Apart from the lunatics. For prisons then, like now, contained many folk who had mental health problems.

The guards discovered that trying to control these folk was a waste of time, and so they were allowed to walk in the direction that suited them- even anti clockwise.

exercise_yard_or_convict_prison-400

I have been thinking a lot about change recently.

How do things change? How do we take something that seems like it has just always been- and move on to something new?

Perhaps most of us are like me- we simply do not change things easily. Stability is our goal- a maintenance of what is, lest the future bring a feared but undefined consequence. Better to walk in the circles that are trod by others, and leave the wandering to the lunatics.

Except that as much as I worry about change, I am also drawn to it.

I am tired of walking the same circles, and long to wander free- to adventure…

So it occurred to me again how grateful I am to those people who dared to defy convention, and show another way.

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I have to confess that the image of prison described above brought to me the image of institutional church. Not bad- well regulated in fact, well thought through, run by fine upstanding people in the pursuit of a worthy goal.

But somehow stuck. Held in by walls- made of stone and doctrine. Built on a solid foundation of faith and fervour, but now somehow set in cold stone. An organisation that grew in reforming zeal, and remained anchored to the culture that formed it whilst the world drifted away…

And let us not kid ourselves that only traditional ecclesiastical forms of religion fall into this category- because I would dare to suggest that almost any organisation (perhaps especially faith based ones, for all sorts of complex reasons to do with the mixing of organisation and ‘election’) will concrete itself into an exercise yard within 30 years of its inception.

I have walked those circles for too long. Time to find a road that goes somewhere else…no matter how uncertain.

And that is where I still find myself- on the road. It does not come easy to me, as I am happiest at home with the people I love, and love me in return.

But there is this thing that draws me onwards.

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But back to the point of this post- those folk who walk in other directions.

I confess to doing this reluctantly myself, and with considerable caution. And so I am very grateful to those others who first broke away from the circle, in the face of approbation and punishment. Risking the label of the lunatic, or worse, heretic (they still burn those don’t they!)

Because where would we be without our agitators, our eccentrics, our malcontents? Where would we be without our lunatics (if you will forgive the use of such a pejorative word?)

So thanks Rollins, Maclaren, Bell and Pagitt. Thanks too those countless others who stand up and say that there is MORE. There is a better way to be in this place we find ourselves in.

We can follow after Jesus.

But I suppose the lesson to all of us is that in about 30 years, it will be time for others to break down the walls we erected.

Rob Bell, ‘Breathe’

We have used quite a lot of Rob Bell’s ‘Nooma‘ DVDs in our group. There are about 20 of them at present- each one a little package of creative film making, Bell’s unique presentation style, and subtle reframings of things we thought we knew…

Bell’s high profile (his church is huge and his books and films are known the world over) has meant that he has also come in for a lot of criticism. For many, he is a heretic. For me, he is a man with something to say, who says it well.

I found a copy of one of the films on-line. They cost about £10 to buy, so this might be a way to enjoy one of them (in low quality, with the annoying subtitles) and find out what the fuss is about. Then you can save up and buy some for you and yours!

May it bring to you something new about the wonders of God.

Ordinary Radicals film

A new film is being released in the USA, trying to get to grips with emerging Christian movements across America, called ‘Ordinary radicals’ check out information and trailer clips here- looks interesting…

Not sure whether it will be released over here, but I think we will be able to download it when it is released.

This is the synopsis;

In the margins of the United States, there lives a revolutionary Christianity. One with a quiet disposition that seeks to do “small things with great love,” and in so doing is breaking 21st Century stereotypes surrounding this 2000 year old faith. “The Ordinary Radicals” is set against thie modern American political and social backdrop of the next Great Awakening. Traveling across the United States on a tour to promote the book “Jesus for President”, Shane Claiborne and a rag-tag group of “ordinary radicals” interpret Biblical history and its correlation with the current state of American politics. Sharing a relevant outlook for people with all faith perspectives, director Jamie Moffett examines this growing movement.

As Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw write in the book, “This is not a set of political suggestions for the world; this is about invoking and embodying the alternative. All of this is an invitation to join a peculiar people- those with no king but God, who practice jubilee economics and make the world new. This is not the old-time religion of going to heaven; this is about bringing heaven to the world.”

Featuring Interviews with: Becky Garrison, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Rob Bell, John Perkins, Brooke Sexton, Michael Heneise, St. Margret Mckenna, Logan Laituri, Zack Exley, Aaron Weiss and many more Ordinary Radicals.

Here is a taster…