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.


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.


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.


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.



Woman at a window

All coffee misted

And mild of hair

Watching middle distance

While I whisk by

Holding to a road all silver black

Mixing rainbows

From sun

After rain.

Still life

Momentary melancholy

Brought to soft focus

By speed, and the low winter sun.

I pray reflection finds

A kind mirror

And her seasoning will go

Soul deep.

But me, I push past the spray of a log lorry

And a sudden blind panic

Brings me to my own days business

And the looping road

To Inverary.

Mark Berry- missionary to deepest darkest Englandshire!

I have been enjoying Mark Berry’s blog for a while- ever since hearing him speak @ Greenbelt festival


To my surprise and pleasure, I found that he was the subject of a programme on Radio 4 called ‘The most Godless town in Britain‘.  (You can listen again to the programme via the BBC 1 player on this link for the next 7 days.)

Mark is based in Telford, a Shropshire new town in Middle England. I have spent some time there as a friend lived in Telford and asked me to lead worship at his church a few times ten years or so ago. It is a strange place- a planned new town, with integrated transport and industrial units surrounded by scrubby planting. To the uninitiated, it all looks the same, and it it very easy to get lost.

Telford apparently has the lowest per capita Church attendance in the UK, and the Church Missionary Society sent their secret weapon- personified in Mark.

Except the secret is out- thanks to this interesting radio programme.

For those of us who have been part of this emerging/missional conversation- it is all in there. The call to live for Jesus in a post-modern context, and engage with people who are ‘Spiritual’, but not Christian.

How is he getting on- well, check out his blog, which records some really interesting projects, including ‘Safe Space Telford‘. I think these things are a living example of missional living, now displayed in the national media.

Will exposure like this be helpful, I wonder? I reckon Mark will need some people to stand close with him, as I would think the pressures and strains will be considerable.

The radio programme gives a mixed bag of a conclusion- the presenter seems to be interested, but bemused- returning ultimately to a measure of faith and success that is based on numbers primarily.

Well worth a listen though…

Phyllis Tickle- The great emergence… and emerging church.

Following on from my earlier post about this word ’emerging’, I thought I would get hold of this book, that has been doing the rounds for a few months, by the wonderfully named Phyllis Tickle. I think I passed it by earlier as it seemed to be engaging with an issue- the step shifts in culture, and how faith engages with it- that was one I felt I had talked to death.


However, I came across a post today (thanks Corbus!) that contained a publicity clip, and so I hit Amazon. Here is the clip;

And for a bonus- here is a bit of dsicussion between Pete Rollins and Phyllis…

And finally- this one is very much worth listening to- it captures something that I have been chewing on for a while.

There seems to me to have been a retreat from the early radicalism of the ’emerging church discussion’. Is the’missional’ thing a way of making this safe- bringing it into the safe folds of organisation, and so neutering those who would bring disruption?

Or is ‘missional’ rather a conduit for life giving fresh air for the body of Christ?

So we decided to stick with the E word (for now). How about you?

Over the weekend we had a meeting of our embryonic ‘Emerging Scotland’ group. This began on Facebook, and has slowly gathered momentum towards real connections as well as on-line ones. If you are interested in such things tartan, there is an account of our last meeting here.

One of the issues at hand has been what on earth we should call ourselves? The name ‘Emerging Scotland’ was coined prior to the time when many of the earlier users of the word emerging began to distance themselves from it. Do we start to use this new word ‘Missional’?

Here is a selection of answers to a questionnaire;

4. What’s in a name? We set out using this word ‘emerging’- although it seems to be a word that is being abandoned by many of its early users. What does the word mean to you?

“A useful word to catch lots of different ideas and activities.”

“New ways of doing things.”

“Living life with people where they are and in the course of life, and living/sharing the gospel.”

“A label that speaks about what we are not, but not what we are. It evokes an emotional response.”

“The birth of something new from an old foundation.”


If this network is to call itself anything, is it time to find a new name- ideas?

“Emerging- necessary as an interim description- we can’t denote ourselves until we can define ourselves.”

“ Possibly need new name- but most names that convey significant meaning will become outdated as things move beyond them.”

“It’s fine for now.”

“Emerging implies something is HAPPENING.”

“ It speaks to me of hope, whereas ‘missional’ speaks to me of obligation, and organisation.”

So we will stick with ‘Emerging’ for now- even if what we encourage is activity that might also be described as ‘missional’.

How about you- are there others out there who are also wanting to stick with the E word? Is it still meaningful as a descriptor of something?

St Arbucks meet, ‘Emerging Scotland’- the skinny for those who could not make it…


Mins of the meet yesterday- get in touch if you wnat to know more- or if you have your own answers to the questionnaire!

Emerging Scotland meeting, Starbucks, 24th January 2009.

This was the second meeting, with an open invite using messages to members of the Facebook group, as well as spreading the word using blogs and word of mouth…


10 people attended.

Dunoon- 5

Kilwinning- 1

Irvine- 1

Easterhouse, Glasgow- 1

Edinburgh- 1

Several other people sent apologies, or were unable to make it at the last moment.


Informal social meeting, with a chance to share stories and encouragement. We also used a short questionnaire to inform the potential future shape of the group. I think it is important to check and recheck this as we go along…

QUESTIONNAIRE A summary of answers given;

1. What brought you to the meeting?

“A desire to meet with other Christians wandering and wondering on the edge of established church.”

“Hoping to meet folk- share ideas and find mutual support etc”

“A few years back read ‘A new kind of Christian’.”

“To speak with people without having to spend 80% of my time justifying/repeating the argument.”

“Needing to connect.”

“To give and get support.”

“To find out what’s going on elsewhere.”

2. What use might a network be to you? e.g. companionship, theological discussion, sharing of ideas, practical support for project, retreats, website and contact lists, other stuff…

“All of the above.”

“Sharing, encouraging, pulling together.”

“Discussion, ideas sharing, meeting point.”

“Meeting other parents of kids not in organised church.”

“Safe place to explore ideas free from fear of guilt and accusation.”

“A sense of not being alone.”

3. Do you have skills you might offer? Hospitality, organisation skills, webmaster skills, mentoring, prayer guiding, counselling, carpentry, mime, cake baking, whatever- please be brave, we will not impose unless you are more than willing!

  • Counsellors
  • Youth workers
  • House church pastor
  • Music, writing, alt worship
  • Theological training/university education (“might make me a liability”!)
  • Experience of weird and wonderful things over the last 30 years.
  • Mentoring young leaders, missions consultant.
  • Modesty!

4. What’s in a name? We set out using this word ‘emerging’- although it seems to be a word that is being abandoned by many of its early users. What does the word mean to you?

“A useful word to catch lots of different ideas and activities.”

“New ways of doing things.”

“Living life with people where they are and in the course of life, and living/sharing the gospel.”

“A label that speaks about what we are not, but not what we are. It evokes an emotional response.”

“The birth of something new from an old foundation.”


If this network is to call itself anything, is it time to find a new name- ideas?

“Emerging- necessary as an interim description- we can’t denote ourselves until we can define ourselves.”

“ Possibly need new name- but most names that convey significant meaning will become outdated as things move beyond them.”

“It’s fine for now.”

“Emerging implies something is HAPPENING.”

“ It speaks to me of hope, whereas ‘missional’ speaks to me of obligation, and organisation.”

(The consensus of the people at the meeting is that we should stay with EMERGING SCOTLAND for now.


There is still a formal request for people to host events in their locality. Chris is happy to gather info about these and circulate them.

The dates we have so far are as follows;

28th– 29th March- Weekend retreat/open house- Chris and Michaela’s house, Dunoon. Tel 01369 707009, or contact Chris on chris@goan.fsnet.co.uk

Come for the weekend or for the day.

1st May weekend- an open invitation to the more hardy of us to a wild camping weekend on Scarba with Aoradh. Again- contact Chris for more info.

16th May weekend- family weekend- TBC- hosted by Nick Smith- details to follow

We pencilled in other dates- and though several people have said they offer something, we have not filled these yet-

27th June.

12th September

21st November

If you have other stuff that will ‘fit in’ already happening, or if you want to suggest an alternative date- let Chris know.

Hopefully we will pursue some of the broader organisational things as we go along…



25th Jan, 2009

The legacy of church in the lives of children of the fundamentalists…

I met with some friends yesterday as part of our on-going attempt to get a supportive network for people who are interested in emerging/missional stuff in Scotland (details here for those who are interested- I will post an account of our meeting later.)

It was a great day- with many interesting conversations, and capped off with a visit to Glasgow to see some live music (Welsh language band 9Bach and The Broken Family Band- brilliant both.)


One conversation we had was about kids and church. Like me, quite a few of my friends have grown up in church situations in which narrow belief systems and codes for living were espoused. For me it was to be part of an evangelical/Charismatic tradition, in a difficult family context. For a couple of other friends, their history comes from Lewis, and the stern austere, almost puritan, Free Church of Scotland. Then there are a few Baptists, or Pentecostals, and Catholics.

For many of us, the journey of faith ever since has contained an attempt to come to terms with some aspects and attributes of God- and what he expected of us- that were given to us by our backgrounds. When I say ‘given’, I include things we were told, and a wider way of seeing things that we just internalised though socialisation, if not indoctrinisation.

Some of my friends came to a point where they rejected church, because they could no longer live with some of the narrow and judgmental views that it represented for them. In losing church, it was difficult not to lose God too- at least for a while. Add the abusive actions of some of  the servants of Jesus in churches we are familiar with, and it perhaps makes it all the more difficult for people to find church again, or even to hold on to faith at all. (There is some more stuff about abuse in churches here and here and here.)


But my friends and I- we remain drawn by the wonderful person of Jesus- and he leads us back to God the Father, God the Spirit- and the ecclesia- the collectives of the agents of the Kingdom of God.

As previously mentioned, yesterday, the discussion turned to children in Church. We all grew up with Sunday schools, and weekends regulated by attendance at a series of mostly boring services. The question concerned how much of this we felt we could inflict on our own kids?

Can we protect them from our experiences?

Where our experiences actually bad?

If so, in the balance of things- was there more bad than good?

The interesting thing was that all of us came to the conclusion that despite the difficulties, our church backgrounds, with all their guilt-and-confusion-inducing narrow viewpoints, brought to us mostly good and positive things.

Perhaps this was because we are a limited sample- people who still try to follow Jesus, rather than the many who have lost him entirely. These people are the prodigal lost sheep the Church may never return to the fold. My prayer is that Jesus will still bring them to him…

But I wonder if there is also something of a generational passing of the baton towards the new post-modern generation. We represent a punk generation, who later find an ironic pleasure in prog-rock, whilst also being drawn to Madrigals and Gregorian chant. There has been the necessary rebellion- but ultimately, there is nothing new under the sun, and the next generation will need their points of departure from ours!

Time will tell whether what they inherit from understudying the whole missional/emerging experiment equips them for their own journeys of faith more than our own childhoods.

For their own children’s sake- I hope so.


St Arbucks meeting- Emerging Scotland… see you there.


I am just getting ready for an Emerging Scotland meet up @ Starbucks, Glasgow Fort, tomorrow @ 2.00 PM- hope to see some of you there!

Sorry that some of the other originators can’t make it- Stewart and Thomas for instance. Thomas has been operated on this week- so prayers for a swift recovery for him!

You may remember that the plan (as blogged a few times, and discussed at a previous meeting) was for something like this;


It is clear in my mind that the proposal is for a facilitated network, which imposes few restrictions or obligations on members. We need to decide pretty early on what we would seek to embrace and include. My preference is for a very ‘generous orthodoxy’- and again, this seems to fit in with those who returned the questions.

The object is to support and sustain one another as we seek to follow Jesus into Scottish towns and cities. Hopefully we will share ideas, resources and find companionship and encouragement, and there may be grounds for formal/informal mentoring or partnership arrangements.

People may be part of existing church situations in which they are seeking new ways of being or doing, or they might be planting something new- or perhaps just dreaming of doing…”


“By a variety of means: websites, blogs, on-line networking, but also face to face meetings, retreats, information sharing events etc.

We are clear that the development of a website is a priority, but only to facilitate real human contact! Stewart has a possible way of making this happen- but might appreciate input from anyone who has skills/interest.

Sharing ideas/ skills/ resources – labyrinths, prayer rooms, musicians, poets, and people who know how to support and empower through prayer. Not to forget preachers and evangelists etc etc!”

What next?

Well, I am still on the look out for people who are prepared to host events in their locality– these might be

  • More coffee shop meets
  • Open house things
  • Creative prayer/worship things
  • Stuff around themes- theology, kids, sectarianism, rural stuff, social justice, etc


I have some info about current plans, and we have set some dates for other potential events (which are entirely negotiable, and simply arranged around my own calendar!)

Anyone who wants more info- get in touch…

A good start…

I watched Obama’s inauguration yesterday with interest, but considerable detachment. American politics always seem so different from our own- the hype, the necessity of huge financial resources and all sorts of power-brokeridge that we can only just guess at. Americans seem to have a reverence and deference for (and towards) whoever hold the office of President that British people never feel for their rulers.

I am also scarred by 1997, when the incoming Labour government promised so much in the UK, after so many damaging years of Tory government. I remember the hope for something new and genuinely different. And the creeping realisation that Blair’s government seemed unable to ever elevate principle over popularism and the manipulation of image.

But Obama made a good start. I enjoyed the moment when his jaw set a little firmer and he began to talk about how his government would have a totally different human rights agenda. The Camera cut to a close up of out-going president Bush.

Then today, I heard that one of the Obama’s first acts as President- on his first day in Office, was to suspend all the ‘trials’ of inmates currently contained in the infamous Guantanamo bay (Here is what the Guardian had to say.)

He had promised as much- so it should not have been a surprise

I have posted some thought previously on Guantanamo bay- here.

In particular, some thoughts about Omar Khadir, the 15 year old boy abducted and held in Guantanamo bay ‘interrogation centre’ . It is his trial that has been suspended today following the Presidents intervention. Here is footage from his interrogation, released by his defence team-

A good start Mr President.