Poverty and the emerging church…

So- are ’emerging churches’ and the people that use the label middle class and self absorbed with their own little slice of post modern spirituality?

Check out this discussion thread, in which Paule Ede, who lives and works in a tough part of Glasgow as part of an ‘Urban Expression‘ church plant. I think the discussion rapidly got a little heated, which is a shame as it seemed to be digging into something that is very important. I have a lot of respect for the things that Paul was saying, and for the challenge it ought to bring to those of us whose lives are led in a different direction.

Poverty is not romantic. It is rarely a choice, and always brings the aspiration of escape. It brutalises and robs people of health and opportunity. But the presence of such inequality in our world is as much as anything, our shame. It’s presence in our streets and cities is a sign of our failure.


A consistent theme on this blog has been that of social justice. I have lived my life convinced that the call of Jesus is perhaps first and foremost towards the poor, broken and hungry. It pushed me towards a certain understanding of spirituality, and into a career in social work, and mental health work in particular.

But we can be creatures of contradiction and self congratulation in the face of contrary evidence. I live in a big house in a beautiful place. I have a fairly new car, and a well paid public sector job. Like most men I have a weakness for gadgets. I have accumulated lots of STUFF- most of which I do not really need. In short, I live a life like most of the other people in our affluent suburbs.

I discussed this with friends in my small ’emerging’ community the other day, and my thinking changed a little.
My own group is in Dunoon. Dunoon is a fairly affluent area, although has a significant underclass of folk who ended up here, almost washed up ‘doon the watter’ from the big city. We too have lots of difficulties- drugs, under age drinking. We also are a culture that has more than it’s fair share of loneliness, isolation and brokenness.

Last week we watched a Mike Frost DVD as part of a study we are doing around the book ‘Exiles’. Frost was thundering eloquently and movingly about the nature of our calling as Christians to get into ‘Dangerous criticism’ of the empire we are part of (Subordinate and secondary perhaps to our call to BLESS the empire where we can.) He spoke a lot about consumer driven over consumption, and the poor. Following on from the discussions on this blog, I began to shrink a little into the chair I sat in, in my big house, well heated and full of my friends.

But during the discussion that followed I looked around the room with tears in my eyes. Three of us have had serious mental health problems, two addictions, several have long term chronic illnesses, others carry other wounds. Some are on benefits, others are in work. Some will have a posh holiday this year, others will go camping when they can. But we have found a place of friendship and acceptance from which we are seeking means to bless others- particularly the poor.

Then there is the work and activity we do that is a direct result of the faith within us and the call of Jesus. I started to make a list of things that we are connected with-

One of us volunteers on the committee of a local addictions charity.

One runs the ‘time bank’
One supports volunteering opportunities and helps small community groups
One manages a charity that helps homeless young people
Two others work as life coaches and run stuff for young people
Another does suicide awareness training
Another is a counselor and has a particular interest in bereavement issues
Another is seeking to get allotments established to allow folk to grown their own food
Another has set a local charity to refurbish play equipment on the west bay
Another works in Greenock to help kids get some meaningful work experience
Another is a volunteer at a local old folks home
Another is a student who is studying addictions
Another is a reporter in the local paper, campaigning around justice issues

Does this get us ‘off the hook’ then?

Well, no.

I think the call of Jesus on our lives is always destabilising, always calling us out of comfort into the journey with him. As soon as we think we have it sorted- no matter how challenging the context, then we are destined to fall flat on our faces, or descend into mundanity. This is challenge for those of us in the emerging church as much as it is for any other church grouping.

And one of the ways that people who have lots of stuff are always going to be challenged is in relation to our comfort and wealth. We are challenged not because these things are bad, but because they can so easily be idolatrous and ensnaring.

So for those of us with big houses and cars- what use are we putting them to? How dependent are we on stuff in the chase for happiness and fulfillment- whether or not we have it, or just WANT it?

These are not easy questions, but Jesus knew that- remember the rich young ruler who Jesus ‘looked at with love’.

The emerging church, in it’s theologising and pontificating is indeed a middle class phenomenon. Perhaps it’s true test will be how it lives out the call of Jesus towards the poor.

The Spirituality of the circle…


The spirituality of the circle, which implies littleness, love of little things, and humility, is not easy in our world. We are schooled from an early age to go up the ladder of human promotion, to be outstanding, to succeed and to win prizes; we are taught to fend for ourselves and to be independent. We are taught how important it is to possess knowledge, success, power, and reputation. We are taught to put external values over and above internal ones. However, the Gospels call us to love and live the Beatitudes; to die to ourselves. Community and Growth by Jean Vanier

Emerging Scotland open house meeting…


A great weekend!

Thanks to all those who came- great to meet new friends, and to hook up again with others. For those of you who had to pull out at the last moment- you were missed and I hope that there will be other chances to get together.

Great too to have a house full of folk- we had around 30 people- adults and children, and there was a mix of quiet times, (when some of us took the kids of to do other things) and noisy times. We set up stations in the garden, and stuck poems to trees and walls… and the rain stayed away!

I have this phrase that came to me-  as we gathered Jesus too was both guest, and host…

We shared meals and life stories, and talked about how life and faith looks from a Dunoon perspective.

What next for networking and meeting?

Over to you my friends- will others set up meets in your areas?

I took very few photos- I was just too busy, but here are a few. Click to enlarge-

A time to hate…


There is a time for all things under heaven…

One summer evening I lay on my back as the light leached from the passing day
And watched the stars slowly flicker into the frame of the darkening sky
At first one here, another there
Then all of a sudden the sky was infinite
Full of fragile tender points of ancient light
Some of which started its journey towards us before there was an ‘us’
And I wonder
Is there someone up there
Raising his tentacles to the night sky
And using one of his brains
To wonder about me?

And should this unseen and oddly shaped brother across the huge expanses
Seek contact
What would he make of us?

I heard an astronomer speak once about the possibility of life elsewhere
In this beautiful ever expanding universe
He had come to believe that intelligent life will always
Find ever more ingenious ways
To destroy itself

And I fear the truth of this
That somewhere in the messy beauty of humanity
We nurture an evil seed –
Grow it in an industrial compost of scientific creativity
Water it with greed and avarice
And hot house it in a mad competition for the first fruits
Lest our neighbours get to market first
And once we work up production
There is no going back
No squeezing back the genie into the oil can
There is only the need for bigger, better

And the defending and defeating
And the ranging of rockets
Exploit whoever
Denude wherever
And if anyone should get in the way
Or destroy
Set up barb wire borders
Teach one another
To hate

So for the sake of green men
And Scottish men
May we yet stand before the eternal night
And decide that truth and beauty and grace will be our legacy
In this fragile passing place that God gave us

May we decide that now is not
The time
To hate

Post emerging church…


I have been part of a discussion on the Emerging Scotland Ning site about the challenges facing those of us who are part of the Emerging Church conversation in Scotland. Check it out- but I thought it worth reproducing some of the points here.

One of the bits of the discussion as been about the new boundaries that what ever forms of church that emerge may well face. This list is far from exhaustive, but here are some of the issues that are developing;

I think most radicalism has to deal with this- we tend to think we have it made. And then we realise that we do not, and indeed, other people have been doing the same as us for years!

I first floated the idea of some kind of Emerging Network in Scotland for this very reason. But many of us have a fear of hierarchy and restrictive structure. The model of facilitated network seems an important one.

I do not care how you worship, where you meet, whether you swing incense or swing your cat. I believe that the time has come to find old and new ways to worship, and engage with passion and creativity- using all the arts, not just guitar driven soft rock!

I grew up with a view of the gospel that I now see as limited. ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ takes me in many new directions, but like you, i am coming to see that the old directions are still valid too- namely saving souls. How we do that is the stuff of much discussion however!

I suppose we need to localise AS WELL as globalise. I need to start with my community, and together we then look outwards first into the locality, and then into the wider world. Limited perspectives, it seems to me, are inevitable. What we need to ask the Spirit of God to show us, is where the bridges are that we can walk on into new places, new ideas. For me, this is exactly what the EC discussion has been so far- but there is so much more!

The spirit of the age? It is certainly an interesting time for capitalist expansionism! A time perhaps for church to raise voices that propose a different way of being. But what this looks like locally is the interesting thing- because it will probably be different for you than for me.

It may not be normal for you- but it is for me. I make this statement not as a theological one, but as an honest starting point. I know people who never appear to doubt. I know others who can not bring themselves to admit this lest the whole edifice of faith comes crashing down. Doubt is not the absence of faith for me, but the place in which it is tested and developed. It is not an either-or, but a both-and. Does this make me a syncretised post-modern? Perhaps, but I have tried the alternative, and it was dishonest. And i suspect that Thomas expressed the opinion of more than just himself when he doubted- and indeed that he continued to vacillate through his life!

It is just a set of lenses to examine stuff with. Limited and incomplete. I think it is a healthy thing to have an understanding of the thinking behind it, but then let us forget about it, and just get on with living and loving!

‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’. Hmmm. I struggle with this.
Whose truth? What about the Bible and the uses we put the words in it to? Is truth something we take into us a we encounter Jesus through the Spirit?
The nature of truth and the discussion surrounding it could take up this whole site.
Perhaps it should!

I would agree that powerlessness is not necessarily the same thing as having no power- particularly when used as a challenge to the miss-use of power (if you see what i mean!) So the example set by Jesus and followed in Modern times by Ghandi, King etc- was a use of powerlessness, in a powerful way. The problem for me is that the church plays a different kind of power game too often- both politically, and more crucially, in the use of doctrine. All doctrinal statements are incomplete, and may even be wrong. So I am all for doctrines- particularly ones that are anchored to the church fathers- but I still think we should hold them lightly and use them softly. Apart from in application to OURSELVES. Accountable to our community. Accepting that we need to learn, but we also need to start from a firm place. There is that bit in Romans 12 (or is it 13?) about ‘disputable matters’…

I think that Christianity without community is not Christlike- but I suppose there have always been others who have followed a different calling- a poles or into caves for example. I also believe strongly in the idea of small theologies, worked out together- that relate to the big theologies, but chew on them within a local expression of faith.
However- the language of church that you use is too much like a triumphalistic version of empire-christianity that i am happy to leave behind! That said, and setting aside my developed prejudices, the very ideas of church as the Bride of Christ also seems to me to be a discussion thread worth starting in it’s very own right…


I am sure you are well aware of the mis-use that we have put words like ‘discipleship’ to.
I do not fully agree that the EC is about ‘maturing out’ of Church-  but neither do I accept that the models of church that predominate do not need the challenge of radical outsiders who will plot a different and dangerous path.
This is not necessarily what I feel called to- a have a skew towards the making of safety nets. But I welcome the hope and challenge brought by others.

Canoes, caves and the Coylet inn…


Nick and I took the canoe over Loch Eck this evening to go and explore some caves in the mountain on the other side of the Loch. It has been a beautiful early spring day, with sunshine burning off the mist early on, and temperatures climbing up to 13 degrees centigrade.

We were scouting the paper caves as a possible venue for some meditation. The paper caves were so called as the place where apparently the Campbells hid their family deeds and documents in the 17th Century- and so hold on to their land. There are several different caves, many of them challenging for people of my proportion.

It was 6.30 when we set off, and almost dark. By the time we were climbing, we needed head torches.

After sliding and inching our way into the main cave, we eventually climbed into the middle cave, where we settled down, lit some candles, and played Mozart’s Requiem mass on a small MP3 player. An awesome and surreal experience.

After spending a good while in the caves, we set off back down to the canoe, taking care as the route is steep and the path very poor.

And as we pushed off into the dark, we switched off the torches, and were treated to a moonless sky full of stars, reflected on the glassy still surface of the Loch. We paddled slowly and silently, the wake of the canoe cutting the reflection…

We headed for the lights of the Coylet Inn, where muddy and blessed, we met Michaela and Lindsay for a meal and a pint.

Life does not get much better.


Learning from sharing…


MySpace.com – Carrie’s Coffee House – 26 – Female – Fulton, Mississippi – www.myspace.com/carriecoffeehouse

Housegroup was great again last night.

We had a visit from Alison Schuchs a former Dunoon lass who married an American Sailor from the Submarine base that was a feature of the Holy Loch for so many years. 25 years later Alison and Mike now live in the Mississippi town of Fulton- a small southern American town of about 3000 folks. Which makes Dunoon look big! (We boast 11000 residents.)

Alison told us the story of Carrie’s Coffee House. 5 years ago, their daughter Carrie, aged 20, was killed in a car accident.

Mike and Alison, in the midst of their grief, decided that the insurance money paid out for their loss should go on something that mattered. They had this long standing dream of a place for young people to gather, that was safe and supportive, and permeated with Jesus.

In Fulton, a large building had been left to the town specifically to be used for young people. The town council had no idea what to do with it- then in stepped Mike and Alison! Now they have a thriving non-alcoholic bar, cum music venue. They run it almost single handedly- it is their passion, their calling- their church.

So, if you are ever in Fulton on a Saturday night- call in… See what God can do with willing hands. See how he can bring wonderful things from tragedy.

As we sat in Housegroup and listened to these stories of hope from thousands of mile away, we were all inspired…

Thanks Alison.

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Almost silent…

The blog has been quiet recently as I have been working on finishing a collection of stuff for Proost called ‘Listing’- hopefully available soon via a computer near you, as a book or a download.

This will be a collection of poems and meditations based on some of the great lists in the Bible- the Beatitudes, Fruit of the Spirit, Seasons. Some of these things are already on this blog.

By way of a taster- and to show you that I have not been lazy- here is another…


A time to be silent

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for marram grass to move
In gentle air
And for the dying sun
To turn all green things gold
To alchemise the evening
Into a luminal place
On the twilit edge
Between here
And there

A time when the last call of the curlew
Will echo away over the dimming mountains
And the stillness is itself


A time for this day

To silence

The soul

Conversation as dance…


A little more from my Ecclesiastes 3 ‘seasons’ project…

Now is the time to dance

There is a time for all things under heaven…
And today we met

You raised a friendly eyebrow-
Quizzical, but not unfriendly
I smile
And make some comment about weather
Or the price of bread
You laugh, and in the music of your voice
I hear the Spirit
And the dance begins

It is not King David dancing naked
Nor the dance of St Vitus
I have no grace, no artistry
But still
We were beautiful

You settled down in a seat close by
And looked out the window
Finding something to examine in the middle distance
And we were quiet
Aware of each other
But without acknowledgment
Between us however, almost visible in the air we share
Are questions

I do not jive to feel alive
Nor dance like an Egyptian
I am the ungainly morris man
Or like an old bloke at a wedding
Who should know better
But still this waltz we begin
Is under our very own
Mirror ball

Outside the sun warmed the winter day
And kids played
You found a hook to hang a sentence on
And dangled it in my direction
So we moved closer to one another
And music swelled
We spoke of the purpose of the day
And a little of the life lived around it
The shape of you showed a little

I can dance a Gay Gordon
Like a church warden
But should I try the disco
I am a herd of elephants
With ants in their pants
But you and me
We are starting to tangle
In tango

We found the rhythm
And something in the music made it possible
To speak of things usually buried deep
And with a surprising cadence
We found ourselves in a minor key
Dealing in brokenness
Pain and hurt
Trust betrayed
Damage done that left deep scars

Some people dance like Salome
To beguile and manipulate
But if you should fall under my spell
Your head will never be upon a plate

The conversation turned to Jesus
And his failing followers
And I held my breath, lest I tread your toes into the carpet
Until in a moment I was Neuryev
My blood flowed like silk
And we were alive
Salsaing with the Spirit of God

Because now
Is the time
To dance


Englishness, marmite and folk music…

Here’s a bit of cockney folk-punk raconteur Billy Bragg, backed by a selection of brilliant musicians- including guitar genius Martin Carthy, and Chris Wood, he with the ‘dark brown voice’.

It manages to combine some stuff that says something right and true about being from a particular English tradition. One that is unsure of itself, and even if it has some awareness of it’s roots, is not static, but takes and incorporates from other cultures, and becomes something new…

And despite all the Empire Building and oppressing.

Despite the dark satanic mills and the miners strike.

Despite the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Poll Tax.

Despite the Spinning Jenny and the Enclosure Acts

Despite Margaret Thatcher and the death of ideology

England is still a wonderful place.

And because the sound quality of the last one was rubbish- here is a bit more from the collective of musicians called ‘The imagined village.’

Finally, from the same collection- a slice of Benjamin Zephaniniah which gathers some more ideas of Englishness…