I met up with a friend this evening who I had not seen for a couple of years. We met at a conference in Holland at which I was leading worship a few years ago. He is a lovely guy with a deep and passionate faith and a restless, driven energy.
It was great to see him again- to hear of his news from Ireland and work in Finland. And so sit in front of a fire with a glass or two of Whisky.
It came to me again how much or paths have taken different directions.
When I met him he was a Charismatic Catholic and I was attending a Baptist Church. He left Catholicism and moved into a Charismatic Evangelical church, and now is in a small house church. His theology is firmly towards Spirit inspiration of the Holy Word of God.
As for me, well I meet with friends in a house, get involved with other things via an arts group and seek wider fellowship with people who have found a place within the ’emerging church’ discussion.
My friend and I, as we have done previously, soon got into deep discussion. Sometimes this conversation verged on argument, but not really- although it was passionate and heart felt. Another friend bowed out early and went home, and Michaela kept out of our way too…
The point of conflict was about the usual things around emerging church- the totemic issue of homosexuality, the way we understand and read the Bible and the issue of ‘Demonic deception’ that began in the roots of the emerging church movement. He had read a book that spelled out the dangerous errors present within and underneath the EC. We could not go into detail, as Michaela was giving him a lift home, and called time at 1 AM.
Is there any point in these conversations? Neither of us was likely to make any major shifts in thinking.
I suppose you could say that they have the effect of rehearsing the arguments, testing the core assumptions and developing a deeper understanding.
But I think they may be also energy sapping and distracting. The EC has not got it all sorted- but then, who has?
Meanwhile, there is the real stuff to get on with- the living and loving and the serving and greeting of old friends.
Speak tenderly my loved one
My heart is laid wide open
Ventricle and clavicle
Could easily be broken
Vulnerable and winnable
Hungry for your mercy
Like a wanderer returning home
Weary thin and thirsty
I hear your distant voice
Dancing in these mountains
Your music in the flowers-
And flowing in the fountains
Come away with me my love
In this hillside let us dally
Apple of my shining eye
Lily of my valley
One of the heatbreaking picture of baby P shortly before he died.
I am off work today- a return of an old problem with cluster headaches. Dreadful things- a conveyor belt of Migraines. I think I am over it, and then the vision goes, the sickness and nausea kick in, and the head starts to split…
In between, I am functioning, but not very well.
Almost by way of penance, I have been catching up with some information about the dreadful story of baby P, whose tragic death at the hands of his mother and mother’ boyfriend has been all over the news these past couple of weeks.
I am a social worker, and once again I find that my whole profession appears to be on trial by media and politicians.
There seems no doubt that something went badly wrong with the plan to support and protect this little boy. His body bore the marks and scars of a dreadful litany of injuries. Faced with this information, it seems so simple- he should have been rescued much earlier- at one of the many point of contact. Here is a list of contacts with services;
78 contacts with health workers, doctors, social workers and police
2 health visitors
1 mental health worker
4 social workers
1 family friend;
10 hospital visits (to at least 3 hospitals)
4 visits to clinic
5 parenting classes (the last two weeks before his death)
Seen by GP 14 times
Seen by health visitor 7 times
Mother seen by mental health worker 4 times
The fact is, society needs someone to blame. Despite all the different agencies involved- and despite the fact that all child protection decisions in England are taken by multi-disciplinary conferences, the finger of blame has fallen on social workers. All the other contacts listed above count for little…
Large numbers of us, in the face of this shock, have mutated into mere gobs on legs, iterating and reiterating the last plausible prejudice that sat on us. A terrible thing has happened, it’s all down to X (fill in the prejudice) and someone’s head should bump bloodily down the steps of the Temple of the Sun, to save us from the wrath of the gods.
This is the second tragic death in the Haringey area of London to make news. The last one sparked a public inquiry (Victoria Climbie- details here.) The shocking failings of services in that case reverberated around the social care world. An inexperienced social worker who appeared to be totally out of her depth was hounded by the press in this case.
I have been a social worker since 1990. Like many of my colleagues, I chose social work as a career because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to work for something that mattered- and as far as I understood what my faith called me to, what mattered most were those at the broken edges of society- those who are in the most need.
For most of my career I have worked with adults who have mental health problems, but in this capacity have worked with many many family situations where kids were at risk. The simple truth is that outcomes (measured in terms of self esteem, education and vocational acheivement, and later experience of life problems/mental illness) for kids who grow up in troubled situations is not good. Add mental illness, and parental addiction to substances into this mix, and damage is likely to be more severe.
However, if you REMOVE kids from home in the UK and place them in foster care or in group living environments, then outcomes are even worse.
I worked in a childrens home for a while back in 1989, and it nearly broke me. It was a violent, oppressive place, with a high octane mixture of very damaged kids ranging from 7 years old to 17. All of these kids were there because foster placements were either impossible to find, or had broken down because of the extremes of behaviour exhibited by the kids. Thankfully this place has now closed, but the issue of how best to support the most vulnerable kids within our society remains the same.
Most social work departments use a sliding scale of interventions, based on a multidisciplinary assessment. So typically, things will start with a discussion between health, education and social workers, and a plan might involve extra childcare, or home support for parents. Child psychology or family therapy is extremely difficult to access, and often the system is forced to focus on kids in the most need, and to offer supervision, but few solutions. The removal of children from home is always seen as a very last resort.
These are complex issues, that depend on highly complex systems, riddled with bureaucracy and regulation. After each scandal, we kid ourselves that there is a regulatory solution- a way of organising the risk of a further failure away. Whatever the failings in this current case, the simple truth is that kids will continue to be born to dysfunctional and damaged parents, and attempts to protect and support these kids will sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail.
Sometimes they will fail badly, and the results will be tragic.
There are so many variables- team dynamics (within departments and across disciplines), available resources, work loads, culture of the organisations, etc.
Our process presumes that it is normally better for a child to stay with the family, even in a household which falls far below the ideal, and social workers who go to their managers with a recommendation to commence care proceedings know that they will have to put up a very strong case.
When you consider the outcomes of the 60,000 looked-after children in our care, this is hardly surprising. Almost threequarters of them will leave care with no formal qualifications. Only one per cent will go on to enter any kind of university education. One fifth of looked-after children are homeless two years after leaving care; 25 per cent of our prison population has been through the care system. Things have to be really bad at home before care looks like a better option.
Yet in other countries the picture is very different. In Germany looked-after children do extremely well, with 95 per cent of children in the German care system going on to vocational education. Crime committed by looked-after children in Germany runs at 5 per cent of the rate of crime committed by those in our care.
Money is important. In Germany most looked-after children live in small community homes, with fewer than 16 residents. By contrast, more than two-thirds of our looked-after children are placed in foster families which cost less than a quarter of a residential placement in Germany.
Money also hangs in the air at case management meetings, and sets up serious conflicts of interest. It is the local authority managers who decide whether to go for care proceedings. They are also the people who will have to find the money to pay for care.
When budgets are tight, the best interests of the child are not always aligned with the best interests of the local authority. In fact the two can often be contradictory. And in those crucial meetings the social worker, the main advocate for the child’s welfare, is often the most junior person in the room.
As a society we need to look again at our priorities. Unsurprisingly, the current social work witch hunt following baby P’s death has already seen a rise in the numbers of kids being removed form parents. Practitioners will almost certainly take less collective risks. Given the pressures on the systems looking after kids in care, this may well be unsustainable.
Is this what we want?
I think the focus on BLAME masks a societal failure to put the needs of kids first. But given the current financial crisis, I fear that finding a scapegoat or two will be the preferred option…
As for me, I will say a prayer for this baby, and his parents. And for the imperfect workers (like me) who work in an imperfect system, and hope that we can make things better.
I have been reading this book- ‘The church in emerging culture’, ed Leonard Sweet. It takes a look at where church is up to from 5 perspectives- Andy Crouch, Michael Horton, Fredrica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren and Erwin McManus.
I have lost my way with it a little- more because of the format I think. Each person writes a chapter, then the other authors get a chance to put in footnotes and comments. I like the idea, but in practice, it makes for a strange book- lots of the comments are congratulatory, or disagreeing whilst being terribly nice.
However, there is an introduction by Leonard Sweet in which he uses this image to make us think about the different ways of being church. I have simplified (because I had to- the bloke it too clever for me!) the discussion, and reproduce it here.
What do you think? Is this a good analogy?
I suppose the interesting thing is that flowers and fruit grow in all of these places- and they can all be very beautiful…
Garden- traditional church?
An ‘enclosure’- fenced off enclave of righteousness. Rooted in traditions. Collaboration between divine gardener (God), master gardeners (ministers) and horticulturalists (theologians), along with the canonical seasons.
Fruit and flowers grow and are appreciated.
The outside of the garden is of little concern. The garden is shaped and hallowed.
The garden demands that we walk slowly, prune quickly, earn the flowers by hard work- composting them well with the goodness distilled from previous generations.
Alien seeds are not tolerated. Constant struggle to win back the garden from the encroachment of time and surrounding wilderness.
Park- evangelical church?
Made for walking. Tied together by paths and vistas. Taking the old story of nature, and reforming it in new ways.
Rather than setting up high barriers, the park regulates the space by RULES. It is open to visitors at appointed times and under the supervision of park-keepers.
Technology and innovation are employed in parks- fountains, play areas- things that attract visitors.
The park manager decides which features to include in the park, borrowing from a wide variety of flora and fauna- but does not do so uncritically- always striving to work within the opportunities given by landscape and tradition.
Glen- progressive church?
The glen is an open and unprotected, surrounded by encroaching vegetation and forest.
It is defined by the relationship between landscape and soil fertility that allows settlement. The edges of the glen- its crags and steep slopes, require hard work to navigate. People avoid these places because of the fear of falling.
Glen dwellers revel in the mystery of the seed and season. They travel in packs of people of group consciousness. They are concerned with the cultivation of food from the land to feed the hungry, not about the beauty of gardens and parklands.
In the garden, you are what your parents planted- here, you are what your seeds become…
The people of the glen have to be highly adaptable and innovative to survive. The thin soil easily washes away, and new production methods have to be embraced.
However, in the Glen, tradition is powerful. People are more likely to look backwards than forwards. The reformers often seek to purify what already exists…
The meadow- emerging church?
A tract of moist grassland where flowers and grasses grow in profusion- all muddled together. There are also boggy places with fragile mosses and lichens. Willows and shrubs also grow there. They just happen. They are not managed by humans. The are rich in botanical (theological) diversity.
They are what first grows after devastation- for example, a forest fire.
Meadows are then inventive, creative and developmental.
The plants that grow in the meadow are intermingled and to some extent dependent. A Flax will never become a meadowsweet, but they will grow side by side. Beauty is evident in each. Fruit grows amid flowers and weeds.
Dwellers in the meadow are not interested in rules or doctrines- but rather in images and relationships and stories that bring people together.
There may be no easy, well trodden paths, but the meadow invites you to run through it bare foot. In this way, every generation can cut its own path. Every generation can turn from a world in which we have tried to garden everything and walk free.
In the meadow, all parties are active, none are passive.
In the meadow, there is a high rate of invention, but a high rate of failure. Plants come for a while, but die away to be replaced by other plants, as the soil conditions and moisture levels change.
A continuation of some stuff based around the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5.
This poem kind of nods at all the fruit Paul mentions.
You can see the others by clicking on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ category on the left.
Love is not against the law
Although in judicial circles
It is not encouraged
But where the Spirit of the Lord falls
Love is between us like oil on bearings
Joy is not forbidden
But wherever it breaks out
It is fragile
Like a bubble
In a pine forest
But where the Spirit of the Lord rests
Joy beats like a dancing drum in the middle of us
Calling us to dance
Peace is never prohibited
But like a dove above a shooting range
Its flight is fraught with danger
But where the Spirit of the Lord lives
The boundaries we keep are soft
And we are learning how
Patience is permitted in most places
But only if you use it quickly
But where the Spirit of the Lord lingers
Patience is like the summer sun
Drawing out the sugars in the ripening fruit
Sweetening the harvest
Kindness is condoned even in the most unlikely places
But it will win you few contracts
And is not conducive to
But where the Spirit of the Lord comes close
Kindness kind of follows after
Goodness will not result in a jail sentence
But neither will it pay its way
In the global village superstore
But when the Spirit of the Lord smiles
Goodness becomes the common currency
Gentleness is no crime
And in many places it is a clinical necessity
But it is easily overlooked
In the shadow of another conquest
But where the Spirit of the Lord draws near
Then hands all rough from hard works
Become softened to hold
And to heal
Faithfulness is never a traitor
Yet we live like weathervanes
Spun by the seasons
To face the prevailing winds
But when the Spirit of the Lord moves
Promises no longer require the threat
Of legal recourse
Self control is thundered from the pulpit
But just in case the message falls on deaf ears
We deploy the secret pew police
Rule books at the ready
Truncheons of truth
To crunch the knuckles
Of the apostate
But when the Spirit of the Lord comes amongst us
There is a perfect law called…
(There’s loads more interesting stuff on the Something Beautiful podcast too for those of you with long journeys and an MP3 player!)
Here’s the low down in visual form…
Which kind of set me thinking again…
Christmas and consumption- can we really turn this around?
For us it will not be easy. Friendship and relationship is very important. As Christians we care called to prioritise both- and the more connections and relationships you have of any depth, then the more present-giving you will find yourself in the middle of.
We have tried various measures over the years to break the consumption-obligation cycles that this can place on both us and friends. These have included-
I have painted, hammered, written and made a million jars of pickle (the house has just recovered from the smell of the last lot!)
Michaela is really good with her hands, and makes cards and all sorts of other things. She usually tries to bring other ‘crafty’ friends together and they have a communal session around the table, which always seems great to me.
But this requires a lot of that precious commodity called TIME- and as Christmas approaches, we tend to be very short of this. Kids plays, church services, carol singing, friend and family visiting and (of course) shopping…
Agreeing not to give gifts
With some close friends we have come to arrangements not to give stuff- but then we often weaken, We say “just the kids”, and then end up giving ‘a token’, simply because we like each other…
Giving stuff to people who need it most!
A lot of charities now allow you to give presents to a third party on behalf of someone else. Check out Oxfam unwrapped– we use this at work rather than giving cards and presents.
The advent conspiracy folk suggest these things;
The other thing that we can do is to organise some time for ourselves and our community to focus on Jesus during Advent– before the Christmas business fills all the diary space.
Think about the business of WAITING. Of anticipating the coming king. Think about the giving of God, and the beautiful pregnancy of a season that will give birth to grace…and peace…and truth.
It was an autumn day ringed with rainbows
With a brilliant light panning across the water
Polishing everything it touched into beautiful Technicolor
For a while the rain swept in
Hammering the surface of the loch to a million tiny ripples
Like frosted glass
Then just as soon, the still sea water became a mirror again
Holding the hills like Turner,
There is a purity to the air
Sparkling like the fine optics
Of the pair of new binoculars I borrowed once as a boy
I drive the coastline, heading for the ferry
And slow down as a family of swans cross the road
Through the gate of the boatyard
Mum and Dad dazzle in the sun
Whilst their dowdy offspring
Waddle in line astern
The absurd beauty of the day turns me all Beatrix Potter
And I wonder at the nature of their errand.
A complaint about a dirty mooring perhaps?
Or a measuring for a new set
Of webbed feet?
Shaking away the sort of smile
That lingers on the soul
I watch the last signet safely over the pavement
And scuttle back towards a more objective
Not the coughing theatrically into a stained handkerchief kind- but rather the acquisition of stuff.
We took a day out today to do a whole load of consuming. We went Christmas shopping. Michaela has this list that she does on the computer, complete with reference information and tick boxes. I go along as the bag man really. But hey, I get a day out with my wife.
Today we decided to brave a large ‘mall’ at Braehead near Glasgow. I have been there once before, and Michaela reminded me that I swore I would never ever go there again. But as I could not remember having said it, away we went.
What a place.
It has two polished levels of shopping- lines of every shop you would expect to be there, and not a single surprise. Each shop seems to be selling almost identical items, at almost identical prices. There is a ‘food hall’, in which awful food is sold, at very high prices. The place has not originality, no sense of place- as you walk through it, you could be in anywhere in the UK, or even anywhere in Europe.
What is it about these places that makes me so uncomfortable?
I think it comes from a constant feeling that I am being manipulated.
And that awareness of this manipulation does not help me avoid it.
I find myself a participant in a system that would convince me that it is normal to fill my life with all of this stuff- which as soon as I remove from it’s box will be worthless.
A system that depends on me buying ever more stuff, because any measurable change in the numbers of us who buy it, or the frequency by which we buy it, will send ripples through the economic systems of the world.
And should any caution or fear produce a slight reluctance to continue with this in enough of us, then stock market values plummet, financiers get nervous and banks start to tighten their credit lines. After all most of us depend on this thing called credit to buy our stuff…
Then businesses start to find that there is less need for their goods, and so they in turn slow their production, and people lose their jobs. And these people are no longer earning money, and so can buy less stuff.
And the whole thing starts to wind down into… recession!
So I had better spend more in this mall right? It is my duty to the world…
Oh but every year we say the same. Christmas is defined by this round of acquisition every year. Don’t get me wrong, I like to give stuff to my friends and family, but it seems that what I give them is so… useless, for the most part.
Is there no other way?
Well, not for us this year. We have spent the day consuming after all. But there is always next year…
I posted earlier about my memories of growing up as a young Christian in the shadow of apocalyptic theologising about the ‘end times’, and in particular the fearful spectacle of a rapture, which a friend of mine (Janet) likened to God hoovering up his chosen ones in a great spring cleaning exercise. The earlier post is here.
I heard recently that there was a new rapture film, based on the hugely popular Tim la Haye ‘Left behind’ series. I have not seen it, so do not know if it is any good. I wonder if it has terrified a new generation of Christian kids as the earlier films in this genre (mentioned in my earlier post) did me?
This is the new film;
The lovely theological term used to describe ones view of the future is eschatology. My friend Ali always cackles that the word is just too much like scatology– perhaps in the case of films like this, he may be very close to the truth!
When I was a child
I saw as a child
In the small things of landscape
Deep in the tickling grass
Held in the hollow of slow summer days
Now, like the grasshoppers-
Ghosts of memory
But now I am grown
And the woods are no longer wild
My dragons died through education
And the noise of cars on the B6139
(Heading for Newstead)
Drove away the bears.
Instead I lifted my eyes to the high places
Where horizons rolled from ridge to ridge
Always higher, always further north
Crossing the high, hard won corrie
Free for a while
From the baser motives-
Above it all.
Then, slower now
At the end of heavy days
And in good company
I look again beneath my feet
And try not to trample flowers.