Global crisis and local Christianity…

We live in an age of perceived crisis.

Not necessarily real ones you understand in the way that our grandparents may have known- in the age of Hitler’s (anf Churchill’s) bombs falling on cities, of concentration camps, and nuclear proliferation.

Instead we have the perceived crises of;

Terrorism– the so called war on ‘global terror’- which we fight using as a weapon, global terror. International policy is formed out of the elevation of fear in a general population- fear of an unknown evil, mixed in with a dose of racism, and religion…

The credit crunch– do you get the impression that there is some kind of hidden hand holding economic strings that we are powerless to influence? Almost as if the burst in the artificial credit bubble was a natural disaster? Meanwhile stock brokers ‘feel the pinch’ and lose the odd sports car, whilst in more marginal places where debt has become a the only option, survival is harder. (Check out this post for more discussion on this issue)

Knife crime- reported as an ‘epidemic’ in the UK, despite at best marginal rises within particular demographic groups in our cities. Anyone would think we did not live in one of the safest societies in one of the safest country in the world!

Energy crisis- oil prices soaring, leading to uncertainty and fear all over the world’s economy. Suddenly oil fields previously politically unacceptable are opened up. And people buy cars with smaller engines, to sit in the same traffic jams…

And so on- house prices, food prices, natural disasters, global warming, etc etc…

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am always much more prepared to believe in a certain kind of chaos that results in some opportunist winners, and some unfortunate victims.

However, I am more and more convinced that our system of free market capitalism should not stand uncriticised. That far from being the answer to the complex problem of human economic organisation, instead it has become an animal that, once fed, is as likely to bite off the hands of the zoo keeper as it is to pull his cart.

My friend Ali sent me this link today. He tends towards relish of a good conspiracy, but I agree that this critique makes interesting watching…

This is propaganda, but propaganda when used by the powerless can become protest- if not a check on the actions of the powerful, perhaps at least it can lead to a reformulation of their strategy. It reminded me again of Thatcher, the most unpopular British prime minister ever, until the Falklands war. Then she was the unassailable economic saviour of western capitalism…

And also of Moazzim Begg, and his experience at Guantanamo bay.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I am a Christian. I am part of a small local community. What should be the local response to all this stuff that fills the airwaves? Which voices should I listen to that are beautiful and true?

Global communication networks allow us to connect with people thousands of miles away, but there is so much information out there, how would you ever make anything heard, or know that what you hear is good?

The old adage of think globally, act locally often just seems like an empty statement. A bit like ‘global village’. For some the world may have shrunk- but the gap between those who have, and those who have not is larger than ever.

But I think that we Christians do recognise truth when it hits us between the eyes. It comes at us when we see one person who transcends the times, and speaks up for beauty and peace, and love.

I remember reading an open letter that Brian McLaren wrote to George Bush just after the attack on the World Trade Centre. Warning against vengeful and angry responses that will result in more victims, more broken lives and families.

Check this out for more discussion about how we might respond to crisis.

The other way that we encounter truth, is through the words and stories of Jesus.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

And blessed are those for whom crisis (perceived or real) commands compassion, and love.

(link here to beatitudes)

Angels on Dunoon pier…

We (aoradh that is) are just home after spending most of the day dismantling a worship/mediation space on Dunoon pier on the theme of Angels, as a celebration of Michaelmas

We used a vacant pavillion building on Dunoon pier- it used to be a bar/disco but has been largely unused for years. We have used it in the past as a 24/7 prayer room, and also as a space for a mediation labyrinth (check this out for more info on the labyrinth- you can get a kit from Proost also…)

It is a lovely liminal space- out above the water, close by the town centre,  with the passing of many feet as the ferries disgorge their passengers. In the daytime, it is bathed in a lovely light, and at night, it becomes a beacon out on the dark waters.

This time we worked with Kimberley Bohan – minister of the local Episcopal church, who brought the idea of Michaelmas to us. As with all of these community things we have done, we wanted to offer a place where people could just come in and encounter God. With no other agendas- no hard sell. Just hospitality and the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

The stations we set up in this space included a community collage, ‘messages’, The story of Raphael, a holy space, and a way of responding using post cards with Angel words.

I hope it was meaningful to people.

Here are some photos;

Emerging church- a review from the blogosphere…

Well, it had to happen.

The emerging church is no longer ‘the new thing’. In fact it might well now be the old thing.

Does that mean that we have now emerged, and so do not need the label or the ‘conversation’ any more?

Here are some links to blogs that wrestle with this issue- if you are interested in this issue, then these guys are well worth reading;

Jason Clark blogging at deep church


Scott McKnight

I have posted two earlier discussions in this vein too- here and here

So what do you think? Has the term become a liability- something to be defended, but useless as point of definition?

If so, why do I feel a sense of loss?

I think, for me, it has been a useful portal to a whole set of thoughts, challenges and concepts that have turned me upside down, but have been a real blessing in my life, and in people all around me.

It has also been a way that our small and isolated group could reach out to people in the wider world,and find support and common understanding. Does our planned but as yet unrealised) ‘Emerging Scotland Network’ (see here) need a new name even before it begins?

And if the label is dead- what next? The emerged church? The missional church? The new monastics of Dunoon/Watford/Wherever?

I suppose in others, I still wonder if this is a movement towards something, or away from something else? And whilst the journey may be life long, then there are still fellow travelers, and way side inns- otherwise who will survive the journey?

In my self, I just kind of feel that I have lost a lifeboat, and it’s back to swimming again.

So I will use the term for a little longer… how about you?

Melvin and the miracles

I had a trip to Oban this morning to attend a meeting in the hospital there. A good morning to be driving- not just because of the lovely still calm day, with mountains mirrored on lochs, but also because of Melvin Bragg on radio 4.

‘In our time’ is a history/philosophy/faith (or what ever else the polymath Bragg is interested in) discussion programme, in which an issue is chosen, and Bragg quizzes some handpicked experts around a BBC microphone.

I love the programme- even when I have not got a clue what it is being said- which is quite often. I suppose I just like the fact that complex issues like this can find some prime-time air-time. Well done the Beeb…

This morning the discussion was on MIRACLES. You can listen again as a podcast here.

I discovered that the Hebrew word translated as ‘Miracle’ means ‘sign’, or ‘wonder’. Something unexplained that points us to God. The programme dug into these areas;

What are they?

Are the accounts factual, dependable, or mythological?

How have they been understood through history?

What meaning did they have in people’s lives?

What role have they played throughout church history?

The discussion covered stuff from the burning bush to the signs and wonders of Jesus. It also asked some questions about the vast trade in relics, at one point, perhaps the greatest import into England from abroad, and how the reformation initially tried to sweep away all this stuff as superstition, and suggested that the time of miracles was over, replaced by the time of reason and faith.

And of how, with increasing distance from these signs and wonders, people became increasingly dependent on scripture as rational evidence for God. And so the importance and centrality of scripture as central to faith life and belief grew and grew.

But as we know, the Protestants never gave up on miracles. From the very beginning of the Reformation, groups would describe the supernatural intervention of God, both on a personal,local level, and nationally.

And there are even now whole channels of satellite TV full of so-called miracles. And thousands flock to shrines at Lourdes or Walsingham seeking their own miracles…

Within the Charismatic movement that has shaped me and my faith, the power of the Holy Spirit was expected to be revealed in miracles- healing, prophecy, deliverance and direct provision.  Although it seems to me that we often hyped up and overpromised, I still have many stories that I can explain no other way but by using miraculous language.

Melvin led an interesting discussion about what Francis of Assisi had to say about miracles. How even then there was a concern to test and discern when this was of God, or of the Devil or some trickery. Little changes it seems! He also quoted St Francis (I think) as saying that the greater miracle was to be seen in the action of a family who meet a perceived need of the other...

Love lived out always did seem miraculous to me- and perhaps even rarer than a former cripple dancing the Highland fling on the God channel!

I kind of think that encountering God will always mean encountering miracles. Signs, wonders. I doubt these will ever be conclusive universal evidence for faith and belief. Even those of Jesus did not seem to offer that.

But the meaning they bring to my friends, in the way they live out their lives towards God- this is real.

So thanks for the mental and spiritual work-out Melvin…

constructing amongst the deconstructors…

There are lots of concepts and key words that have been reference points for those of us who have been following this emerging church ‘conversation’…





We live in world in flux. The personal angst seen in the popular culture of the sixties and seventies has found its way into the very structure of our society, and into our institutions. Everything is now questionable, everything is old and tired and broken down…

Another word we hear a lot is deconstructionism, a philosophical term first used by Jacques Derrida in the 1960s- who began to form a method of thinking about concepts that allowed him to get behind the assumptions and rationalisations that the modern world operated under. You can check out what wikepedia has to say about this stuff here.

I like this quote from John Caputo;

Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell — a secure axiom or a pithy maxim — the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility.

The suggestion for we Christians is that not only are our institutions based on a whole set of modernist assumptions that are being challenged, but that the world we serve is likewise deconstructing itself about us, and we ignore this at our peril…

But here is another quote, culled from a useful article (here) by Alistair MacIndoe, from the Rock Church in Dumbarton.

And how long must it be before we learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of
constructing the post‐postmodern world? The individual existential angst of the 1960s has
become the corporate and cultural angst of the 1990s. What is the Christian answer to it? The
Christian answer is the love of God, which goes through death and out the other side. What is
missing from the postmodern equation is, of course, love.’
N.T. Wright 1

We Emerging types have used too many destructive words- perhaps even relished them, and the feelings of superiority this has given us.

But now the real work begins- the purpose that God gave was to go and tell people about Jesus- and (to paraphrase Francis of Asisi) if necessary, use words…

How we do this- how we start to tell again the stories of Jesus, and turn people again towards his beautiful way of living in these our complex times- this is for me to work out, with my community. So we turn to that other buzz-word at the moment-


But, I am convinced that God is creative, and seeks to make and remake, not to break down and destroy. And so for we, his servants, it seems clear that we should start the spiritual cement mixers, and fire up the brick kilns. Busy times are ahead.

Lessons from my big sister-

I spoke to my sister today on the phone. It is always so good to speak to her, as she lives away down in Nottinghamshire, so we are not often enough in the same place.

We got into the usual conversation about God-projects that we are involved in. She and I know each other so well, that this one of those God-affirming kind of conversations usually- even when we are not very gracious or graceful in the way we describe particular people or things.

She described a youth Alpha course she is holding at her house- with 20 young people crammed in, all eager and hungry for knowledge…

And she described her own feelings of inadequacy (despite her very obvious gifts), and how she had to feed all these young people despite being flat broke after a whole series of added expenses this month.

But then she said that she had been thinking a lot recently along these lines;

Go with just what you have in your hands.

Nothing else.

You need to be no-one, but you.

You need nothing other than what you have.

The stuff that you think you need, the skills you admire in others- all this is a distraction- a delusion.

So in her case, this involved cooking a huge lasagna from veg grown in the garden, and feeding souls.

Good on you sis.

Lazarus laughs again…

There are many people mentioned in the margins of Bible stories… some by name.

There is the Gentile-convert-to-Judaism-convert-to-Christianity called Nicolas of Antioch, chosen as one of the seven stewards in Acts chapter seven- along with Stephen, the first martyr. Nick from Antioch- what was his story then? Spiritual gypsy perhaps? A bit of a hippy? But considered trustworthy enough to be given a role as a servant of the embryonic church, and mentioned by name for thousands of years to come…

Later recorded though (By Irenaeus- see here) as starting another Gnostic sect and getting his doctrine all Hippy-shaken.

Then there is Simon the Leper. Mentioned a few times, including as providing a feast for Jesus in his house in Bethany (Mark chapter 14)- you may remember this as the time when a woman broke an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it on the head of Jesus- almost as if she had some idea that soon he would be anointed for burial… who was she- and what motivated her towards this act of excess- what had she seen in Jesus- how had he touched her life?

But back to Simon the Leper. How did he get his name? Was it because he was an extremely spotty kid and the cruel nickname stuck?

Or perhaps he really had been a leper?

If so, why was he mingling with people and not away in a leper colony with the other unclean people, outcasts, not party throwing?

Could it be that Jesus healed him? And after he showed himself to the priests, and was declared clean, he returned home, and his story was known far and wide?

We know that Jesus had some other friends in Bethany, whose story is more well known- the wonderful story of Lazarus, perhaps the most hen-pecked of people in the Bible, sandwiched between Mary the starry eyed dreamer, and Martha the houseproud (if grumpy) hostess.

It is the stories behind the stories that are fascinating- the filling out in three dimensions of these half glimpsed characterisations. Mary, who in many traditions was the same woman who broke the jar of perfume, and was known as Magdelene, from whence she had returned to live with her brother, under some kind of shameful cloud.

And after the events of the story- what happened to these people? Did they make the journey to Jerusalem to watch the triumph and tragedy and then glory of what we now know of as the Easter story?

Were they in the upper room when the Spirit came in power?

Was Lazarus the same man who went as a missionary to what is now Cypress, and whose bones still lie in a shrine there? Did his sisters go with him? Did Martha give those Cypriots what for when they trod dirt onto her clean floors?

So here is something I stumbled on that retells some of Lazarus’ story again- enjoy!

Braveheart, Inchailloch and Scottish/English history.

Back in the spring Ali and I took a canoe trip on Loch Lomond, and spent some time exploring the island of Inchailloch. Check out here for some details of this wonderful place…

The island was the site of an ancient nunnery, sacked by the vikings, and for hundreds of years was the burial ground for Clan McGregor- Clan of the famous Rob Roy.


My Daughter Emily told me that her school, like the good Scottish Grammar school that it is, is studying Scottish history. And in order to aid their 12 year old understanding, the kids are shown the Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’.

It is just possible that Emily told me this to wind me up, as she has heard me rant about this film. It takes so many liberties with history that the very idea of it being shown in school is enough to make me grind my teeth! You know the stuff- the wild and free Highlanders, living in high minded moral purity in the pure mountain air, are set upon by the despotic English, who receive their just deserts from the edge of a rusty Claymore…

Ignore the fact that the film Americanises and romanticises the story, re-drawing the characterisations to make the blockbuster market-friendly. Can we really learn anything from this view of history beyond the reinforcement of narrow stereotypes?

The narrow views that live on in football rivalry, and a kind of anti-Englishness that is understandable in part, but is a prejudice that is justified in many circumstances where people should know better.

But I am an incomer- born in England, with an English/Irish ancestry. Therefore this talk will get me into trouble…

I am well aware that I can never fully understand what it means to grow up as a Scot, and to learn to define yourself against the old enemy… with hostilities now ritualised and categorised according to the modern age. But I grew up as a working class northern English lad, in Thatcher’s fractured Britain. My English forebears experienced forced industrialisation and unrbanisation, and became the workers who fueled an empire, but reaped none of its benefits. The death of the UK as an industrial power was our story too. I say this because we all have out stories of ancestral hardship. Some of them are shared…

And my father is Irish, a Catholic from Northern Ireland. He comes from a town called Strabane, scarred still by bombings, shootings and violence, and polarised into groups defined by skewed historical inherited memory.

This redrawing of history to suit a particular prejudice is often the recourse of the powerful. In our case in Scotland, it seems to me that it is also something indulged in by our small nation, in order to justify chip-on-the-shoulder victim mentality. Ouch. That is harsh- but is there truth in there somewhere?

Scotland, in this view of history, is the proud wild nation, whose heart is to be found in the mountains of the North West. It has been beaten down and oppressed by the neighbourhood bully from the south for hundreds of years, but still, it’s heart beats strong and proud.

But when you look at the realities of history- these things are not so clear. The clearances were perpetrated by the English were they? Or was it the English-centric Scottish nobility? Were the famous and tragic battles fought in the name of Scotland, or were they as much Scottish civil wars, with only one outcome possible when one grouping has a modern, well equipped army on its side?

And what of these pure proud Highlanders?

On Inchailloch one of the graves is marked with the Clan McGregor motto- interpreted on the board above.

If unsure or if there is any back-chat, kill.

These were the times that the mythology of Scottish history sprang from. Desperate times, when old Clan loyalties may as easily been applied to local rivalries, or cattle stealing as to the cause of noble Scotland. Where life was brutal, and brutalised, and the domesticated folk in the south grew up in fear of the Highlanders coming south to raid and rampage, in perhaps the same way that we fear terrorist attack today. The Highlanders could be said to be Al Quieda, the IRA and the Taliban all combined into one for 17th and 18th Century lowlanders…

And we know that this was the mythology that was eventually exploited and wasted by the weak and foolish Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he followed his own power-hungry agenda, in the hope that France would support his cause. Resulting in a time of terror, then of terrible and vengeful persecution by the victorious English army that casts its shadow even today, 200 years later.

I love this country. If we move towards greater independence then let us do it with honesty and respect for the shared history of these islands.

And let us stop this small minded prejudice, that interprets everything through a set of distorted goggles. These sorts of narrow mind sets have been the cause of violence and hatred, and may yet be again.

We Scottish Christians, let us be people of peace and reconciliation. Where there is hatred, let us bring love.

Even to the English.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Lost coins

The M6 unrolls it magic carpet in the early evening light
And the hills of Lancashire draw me close in welcome.
Though my life is blessed now in a land of milk and heather honey
Still I look across this scarred land
Softened by green growth
Seeded with my memories
And feel close to home

Alan, Peter and me
Pounding and panting up the steep tracks
To rest and recuperate at the heady height of the Pike.
Above us only the TV masts poking the whispy cloud,
As in front the lights of Chorley flicker on.
Horwich is hidden by the curve of the land
And in the far distance, the flat lands meet the sea at Blackpool.

Closer, held in the folds of the fields
Along the old roads
Stand stone houses, built out of the quarries at our feet
Falling into the creases of the earth like lost coins
Hidden treasures.

Here was my world.
My place of communion.
My Eden
Or so it seems with hindsight.

Now I pass through, driving south
And a little rain makes the road ahead darker
In the warm car, surrounded by a sleepy family
I grip the wheel gratefully
But with a sadness
Move on.

© Chris Goan 24.5.05.

Gray theology revisited…

Earlier I posted a discussion about how we form our thoughts (our theology) towards God.

I confessed to being afflicted by a tendency to see the gray areas when others see black and white. Whilst I would not necessary wish my affliction on you, I have come to realise that it brings to me something that can be valuable as a spiritual tool in following after God.

I have come to believe that God reveals himself in the margins, in the cracks and crinkles of life. Perhaps this is because we have relegated him to this place only in our business and modern idolatry.

There are many big noise Christian leaders who appear to suggest that they have a mandate from God to bring him stage centre, and let him treat us to tricks and religious entertainment. The God Channel is full of this stuff. Forgive me if I seem judgmental and harsh- I too have longed for God’s tangible, measurable presence. But I have been around enough of this hot air to understand it for what it often is, and to be repelled by it.

My experience of God is more like the squares above.

The solid blocks are like our theology- fixed and orderly and predictable. Constructed into an organised and seemingly complete brick wall. But God is not contained by the bricks, even though he might be willing to be encountered within them…

So as you look at the bricks, there he is in the corner of your vision. But impossible to pin down, Impossible to define and domesticate…

Here are some more illusions to further illustrate the point, and to have a bit of fun at the expense of your psyche (click to enlarge);

Blogged with the Flock Browser