Nature deficit disorder?


Even the National Trust are doing it now- inventing classifications of mental illness.

In fact it was a US based writer Richard Louv who first began to use the words ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature.

The NT are quoting findings from a Natural Childhood Report by naturalist and author Steven Moss, who suggests that a steady stream of surveys have highlighted how a generation of children are losing touch with the natural world.  The NT are planning to launch a consultation into what we all think about this.

The trust argues that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and the growth of what it calls the “cotton wool culture” of indoor parental guidance impairs the capacity of children to learn through experience.

It cites evidence showing that:

  • children learn more and behave better when lessons are conducted outdoors
  • symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature
  • children say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology.

Yet British parents feel more pressure to provide gadgets for their children than in other European countries. This from here;

The statistics reveal that things have changed dramatically in just one generation:

  • Fewer than ten per cent of kids play in wild places; down from 50 per cent a generation ago
  • The roaming radius for kids has declined by 90 per cent in one generation (thirty years)
  • Three times as many children are taken to hospital each year after falling out of bed, as from falling out of trees
  • A 2008 study showed that half of all kids had been stopped from climbing trees, 20 per cent had been banned from playing conkers or games of tag

Authority figures and layers of bureaucracy have combined with a climate of ‘don’t do that’ to create an environment where fewer and fewer children play in the outdoors. This has led to a situation where kids having fun in the outdoors are painted as showing signs of anti social behaviour.

The research shows that capturing children before they enter the teenage years is crucial with the research clearly showing if you get kids hooked before they reach twelve years old, you’ll create a lifelong passion for the environment.

It has to be said that there are sceptics. Some see the NT study as nothing more than a slightly sensationalist money raising campaign, aimed at adding another layer of guilt/concern on to middle class parenting.  Others have questioned the science- writing in the Guardian, Aleks Krotosk had this to say;

…public discourse needs to be balanced and critical. Using emotive language such as “electronic addictions” and “the extinction of experience”, as this report does, undermines the so-called “science” that the National Trust is presenting in this document. Scientific claims are backed up by evidence. Preferably primary sources – not press releases.

Researchers have spent more than two decades untangling the web’s effects on our lives, and have discovered where it disrupts our existing social practices, and where it doesn’t. This is indeed an important issue for public scrutiny, but the method of wrapping up a half-truth in a lab coat and presenting it as an evidence-based review of the literature is as insidious as a PR company commissioning an academic researcher to find a predetermined outcome.

Evidence-based argument is the hallmark of the lively and informed debates we as a population have engaged in since the reformation, and is the cornerstone of an engaged and critical society. The 27-page press release published by the National Trust that describes a made-up disorder is only intended to inspire a reaction and fuel uncertainty. Rather than open up debate, this kind of thing serves to close it down. And that is just not scientific.

She has a point. People said listening to the wireless would make us deaf and watching TV would turn our brains to jelly, and all the changes brought about by the internet on the way we humans interact may indeed considerable but are also irreversible.  We are on the brink of one of those paradigm shifts and it is difficult to know where it will all lead, but there is no going back.

However, many of will read the words of the NT’s National Childhood Report and feel that it is saying something important. It may be rather difficult to scientifically quantify, but we instinctively feel that our disconnection with wild places might yet be a huge mistake.

It might be a huge mistake because in losing our place in the natural order of things, we lose something of ourselves.

It might also be a huge mistake because in losing our connection with the natural order of things, we might also be part of the destruction of everything.

When I was small, my mother took me camping. I found a dead squirrel and it was so lovely that I sneaked it into my tent, along with a lot of still alive fleas. I swam in a river for hours and ended up with stomach ache from something I swallowed. I climbed trees and had to be rescued.

We also joined a rambling club. I still remember those long trudges through Derbyshire, almost too tired to speak.

These experiences, good and bad, never left me. They became the platform for my own adventures as an adult. I hope for the same for my own children. And theirs.

I believe these are reasons for optimism.

Leadership in small missional communities…

It is an old theme- I was just re reading this old post here about Todd Bentley and all the madness around his leadership. There appears to be a similar storm gathering around Mark Discoll’s leadership of Mars Hill. Leadership, power, control- these are things that seem to be perpetual struggles for we humans as we seek to work out collective faith.

Last weekend we were speaking to a group of people about developing small missional communities, and of course we had to say something about leadership. Our small community (Aoradh) still has no ‘leader’. This is in part because we have simply deferred resolution of the issue, and also because we have sort of fallen into a different kind of process of decision making.

I read something the other day that seemed to describe what we do (or what we try to do) really well. Mark Stavlund, who is part of a community called ‘The common table‘ was describing a kind of process that he called ‘negative space’, that he described as follows;

individuals see a need for something, and say so.  As these voices start to harmonize, the leadership team– whose main purpose is to be attentive to the church and to protect its heart– will take notice and begin to clarify the need.  They will work to define it; to understand its parameters.  There might be a need for a different format for organizing the Sunday workflow, or a new way of doing service projects, or a financial concern, or an entirely new program of ministry.  But instead of leading some kind of charge, the leadership team will pull back a bit and simply organize the conversation that is brewing about the new thing or the reform that is needed…

It is a lot of work, and a lot of mess.  But it also generates a lot of creativity and ownership.  Supplying solutions in this way organically integrates the best people in the right places.  The people who step up are almost invariably the right ones for the jobs, and the solutions they find are amazingly exciting and durable. The hardest lesson for those of us with worrying tendencies or those who feel some sense of responsibility for all organizational systems to work flawlessly is that we need to sit with our discomfort and simply wait.  We’re learning that in church, sometimes the best thing to do when faced with an important need is to do nothing.

This is not necessarily about the absence of leadership, but is certainly about the laying down of power and control. There seems to me to be something of Jesus about this.

Making missional community…


We have been away for a couple of days in England, visiting our old church, Calvary Christian Fellowship, near Preston. It has been a glorious spring weekend, full of sunshine, hazy blue skies and green shoots everywhere.

All of which felt very appropriate as we were asked to come to talk to CCF about our experience of the process of making small ‘missional’ communities. They are in the process of trying to change the structure and focus of their organisation towards a collection of such groups. It seems to me to be a very interesting and potentially difficult process- akin to turning around a large oil tanker on a lake, but if anyone can do it I think they can.

Michaela and I did a bit of a double act- I spoke a lot about the thinking behind some of the changes that we have been through, and she described the actual practical experiences. In between we showed photographs, did some activities, and we used a large double sided loom to weave together the names of our community- something that Aoradh first developed for Greenbelt Festival. It has since been used at a few different events up and down the country.

What is created is this lovely thing, messy and rough around the edges, interconnected and full of humanity. We think it is rather a good analogy for the making of community…


It is 10 years since we moved away from CCF up to Scotland. For us this trip was a chance to take stock for ourselves as to the journey we have made. There have been challenges and times of real hardship, but also very great blessings.

This morning, Michaela and I have both taken a day off, which is fortunate as we are both exhausted. We came back to Dunoon on the last (midnight) ferry yesterday.

One of the things we tried to speak about with clarity is the question of what community (or church) is FOR.  It is easy for our groups and activities to become all about OUR needs, OUR spirituality, OUR comfort zones. God might then be adopted as some kind of benign mascot. I think the primary way we avoid this is to constantly make community a place of sending, as well as gathering. Hence, we used this poem;

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for the sent  ones of God

To follow the rough roads

Into the barren broken places

To look for the marks left by Jesus

On the soft tissue and brittle bones

Of the Imago Dei

The stinking, wretched

Image bearers of the Living God


Time for the insurgency of God

To follow the mission

Into the hostile places

To seek out the secret stains left by the love

That was woven  into the very core

Of the Imago Christi

The failing, faithless

Manifest images of the Christ


Time for the dancers of the new Kingdom dance

To look for the music of Jesus

Amid the static and street noise

Tuning to the high fluting fragile sound

Vibrant and resonant;

To the gracenotes made there by Spiritus Sanctus

We, the discordant, cursing and gossiping

Vessels of the Spirit of the Living God


Time for the revolutionaries of God

To follow the long hard march

Unyoked and with easy burdens

Looking for the soft places where people are

Where freedom flickers, where hopes soar

To seek out the Participatio Christi

With weak but willing hands and sore feet

Learning to partake in the labours of love

For now is the time for holy huddles to scatter

On the winds of the Spirit

From ‘Listing’, available from Proost.

I love you will you marry me?

Did anyone listen to this programme on Radio 4?

It was a modern day fairy-tale, with a twist of tragedy.

Across a concrete footbridge high up in a crumbling concrete wasteland someone had written the words-

Clare Middleton I love you will u marry me

The words were visible for miles, and speculation became rife as to the story behind them. Who wrote it? Did Clare Middleton say yes?

In Sheffield, the stories grew like patches of mildew on the wall- some said that she said no, and the man who wrote it jumped off the bridge. Others suggested that Clare was part of a love triangle and it all ended in violence and a burnt out flat.

The presenter managed to track down first Clare’s mother, then her friends, and eventually the writer of the message, and the story took on real flesh.

Clare was a live wire who loved to dance. She was an electric presence, who was drawn to dangerous men and drugs. She already had several kids when she fell in with the writer of the message- himself a survivor of institutional child care.  By then she was stick thin and toothless from amphatamine use, but he loved her.

She said yes by the way.

But three months later they were separated, at least in part because of social work’s concerns about the safety of her children.

And then she died of cancer.

However, the ‘I love you bridge’ has become a symbol of hope. Visible tenderness, humanity and romance in the middle of all those slabs of brown streaked concrete. So much so that some artist has picked out the shaky handwriting in neon lights.

Although not the name- still there, but faded. Which seems to me unbearably sad.

Clare Middleton- you were loved.

Never ‘rebloged’ before (sounds like it relates to a dysfunctional digestive tract) but I liked this article from Simon Cross….

Reflects some of the earlier posts here about masculinity. The idea of reasserting male identity by demanding that men become the roaring lions of the church always disturbed me. The Lion of Judah came as a lamb after all.

Do the small things. I like that…

There goes rhymin Simon

Just a few thoughts about issues of masculine identity in the context of spirituality and religion… please dont let is be a soliloquy, let me know your thoughts in the comments box.

There have been a few articles written recently about the disengagement and disappearance of men from places such as church sanctuaries and missionary agencies.

Two notable recent articles on this are: Steve Davies, writing about men and the mission field, and Vicky Beeching (current Christian uber blogger) on feminisation of worship music.

I’m left feeling though that in both cases, what the writers describe are symptoms of a greater malaise, and while both are interesting and important, they arent quite catching the very complex causes.

These causes are complex, and I would categorise them as essentially psycho spiritual and sociological.

For a very long time the church has been deeply patriarchal, as indeed has…

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The view from here…

Sometimes the wonder of the world we move through hits you between the eyes.

Last week I had to take M to a hospital appointment. She spent half her life very ill from Ulcerative Colitis, until 10 years ago when for no apparent reason, all symptoms disappeared. However because of all the steroids she took there have been concerns about the effect on her bone density. As it happens however, she seems to be doing OK.

We are all passing through, and many are walking a much harder path than us at the moment. We have no right to demand days like today- all we can do is to be grateful when they come.

On the way back home, we stopped for a picnic next to Loch Lomond. Green salad and French bread.  Me and my wife, with the smell of Spring in the air.

Michaela took these photos…

Listening to one of my social work heroes…

There is lots of good stuff on the new Greenbelt Website, including a new GTV section, full of short film clips with some of the speakers/performers at the festival.

One of them was Bob Holman. I was there to see him filmed- you can see me in the second row if you click on this link;

Bob Holman on GTV

Bob was one of the men who inspired me to believe that community activism and social work in particular could make a difference. As a young man, when I heard that friends were planning to be accountants, or hairdressers, or mechanics (but particularly accounts to be honest) I would shake my head slowly at the waste of a life. I believed passionately that life ought to be about helping others- connecting with people who were caught up in poverty or addiction and seeking to bring them to freedom.

There were of course lots of reasons for this- my own troubled and difficult childhood, and also my understanding of what Jesus was all about. These things met in the person of Bob- who because of his Christian faith, gave up a well paid job in a university and moved his family to a council estate, later moving to the still notorious Easterhouse in Glasgow. I do not know Bob, nor the detail of what he achieved, but what he did represented something noble and authentic at a time when Christianity appeared to have little to say about social action, and lots about saving people from hell.

The fact that I watched this video clip again (it is only short- 8 mins or so) at this point of my career is really poignant. All that naive but still cherished idealism about social work as a means to change society for the better, and to be the bridge for grace in the lives of the people I work with- this is all 21 years behind me. I now find myself on a trajectory out of social work all together.

As I reflect, the process of social work has taken a lot from me. After meeting so many people at their lowest ebb, or at their worst behaviour, my compassion and tolerance is blunted. But it has not gone altogether. After feeling the responsibility of managing situation that simply can not be managed, and seeking to help people who will not help themselves my motivation to keep standing in those difficult places has been eroded. But this too remains in part.

Above all, I am tired. I want a cave for a while where I will live out gentle days in the throwing of stones and the lighting of fires.

Then perhaps there might be a rekindling of the old part of me that was so excited by the story old Bob told.

I hope so…