Measuring the well being of society…

Interesting discussion at the end of the ‘T0day Programme’ on Radio 4 this morning about how we might measure the progress and value added to members of society. You can listen to the clip here.

It describes how Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been asked to report to French President Sarkozy- and has pointed in the direction of sustainability and well being (happiness.)

joseph stiglitz

In the wake of the collapse of economic systems around the world, this is a common theme- old macro economic measures like Gross Domestic Product seem to have let us down. Measuring our prosperity and ability to acquire goods and services does not give us a reliable way to measure the worth of society- or the degree to which those of us within it live satisfied and fulfilled lives.

I think that we people of faith are called to be fully aware that this life we are given is precious, and to celebrate all that is good and beautiful within it. We Christians live as disciples of Jesus, whose had a whole different set of priorities…

We live in a time when something vital about the human experience has been somehow distanced from us by an empire whose culture (and very economic survival) is driven by a chasing after STUFF- ever more and more stuff to fill in the void.

We are none of us immune form the powers of the empire we live within. I just bought a new camera. It is a posh SLR that will take images that are much sharper, much richer. But I have a camera already that takes a lot of the photos on this blog. Cameras are TOOLS, and to have a better tool is no crime. But will it make me happier- or life deeper and more meaningful? Of course not. But the empire- this would try to convince me otherwise- and for a while, I even believe that it will too.

The radio 4 piece makes a point about happiness- which has been a theme on this blog before (See here for example.) My day job as a mental health manager brings me constantly into contact with issues of happiness and mental wellbeing. We are in the middle of planning a redesigned mental health service for Argyll, and one of the key government documents we relate to is this one- ‘Towards a mentally flourishing Scotland.‘ It makes interesting reading from a spiritual point of view- digging into how we might create opportunities for people to find satisfaction and build community as a prescription for health- both mental and physical.

I am just reading this book- Rob Bell’s ‘Jesus wants to save Christians.’

jesus wants to save christians

The book is a journey through the Bible, retelling the story of our human journey. Bell talks about the earliest stories from Genesis- the first family of Adam, Eve and their children Cain and Abel. And of how Cain and Abel argue over land and the acquisition of STUFF- marking the descent of humanity from simple subsistence towards more complex economic systems based around the possession of land, and the means to produce more than what is immediately needed in order to sell and barter for other goods.

You could say that this was the rise of humanity, and also potentially the seed of our destruction.

We moved from dependence and vulnerability- to independence and risk aversion.

We moved from community- to individualism and self reliance.

We moved from the need to follow the seasons and live within the natural environment- to the need for central heating, air conditioning, and ever more energy to sustain it.

We moved from a nomadic existence – to being anchored below the weight of what we own.

We moved from a need for God- to the need to manage God to make him fit the lives we now follow.

Could this be the prescription for fulfillment and happiness?




Connection to the earth that made us.

Living simply as pilgrims.

Living spiritually, in search of God.

What might society be like then?

Faith and the internet- ‘Beyond Belief’…


Check out this really interesting radio 4 programme- this episode digs into the relationship between faith and the internet… including the bloke from Ship of fools, and St Pixels.

The discussion ranges from internet addiction, through to whether church can ever be ‘virtual’. Someone quotes ‘The word became FLESH and dwelt amongst us…’

You can download it as a podcast here.

BBC Reith Lecture- the free market and morality…

bbc broadcasting house

I managed to catch most of the first of the new series of Reith Lectures on Radio 4 this morning as I drove round to Helensburgh.

For those who have not come across the Reith Lectures before,  they are a British institutuion- or perhaps an English institution- despite their connection with the Scottish John Charles Reith, the force behind the creation of an independant BBC.

This is what the Lectures are tagged with-

a series of annual radio lectures on significant contemporary issues, delivered by leading figures from the relevant fields

The current series features political philosophy Professor Michael Sandel– and digs into some of the primary issues facing our political and economic system.

This first one concerned itself with the nature of the free market, and it’s relationship with moral choices.

It chews on the nonsense of carbon trading, and the potential free market responses to the ‘problem’ of refugees.

It was a great piece of radio- of a non-sound bite kind, a rare commodity.

You can listen again here, or it is repeated on Saturday.

The series will continue…

Melvin does St. Paul…


Ah the joys of Radio 4.

If any experience refines and celebrates my sense of connectedness with the place of my birth, it is listening to Radio 4. And because I am often on the road driving around Argyll, the station has become my faithful traveling companion.

This morning is a case in point- Melvin Bragg speaking to theologians  about the impact of St Paul on western civilisation. You can listen again, or down load the podcast here.


ER does post modern Christianity- apparently!

Michaela is a big fan of ER. You could say she watches it religiously.

So when I came across this clip on you tube I had to have a listen. Apparently the painfully trendy ER staff had to call in the chaplain to speak to some bloke who was seeking forgiveness for his crimes at the end of life.

Evangelical shock jock radio station Way of the Master Radio enjoyed it, and took the opportunity to take a pop at liberal post modern trendy folk who they see as populating the ’emerging church’. Have a listen- its fun!

It kind of raises the question of how Christians are portrayed in the media. In the UK, for the most part- they are not. It is perhaps a different story in the USA…

There was another programme this week on Radio 4 called ‘God and the movies’. You can listen again on this link.

Apparently Hollywood has woken up to the marketing opportunities of targeting the 200 million or so Evangelicals in middle America.

So Mel Gibson’s film ‘The passion of the Christ’ spawned a line of other movies- many of them very bad… some quite good.

There seems to be a move towards low budget ‘Godsploitation fims’ (I kid you not!) Check this out- BIBLEMAN!


But there is this other return to films that contain strong moral themes- films like Iron Man or Superman, which seem shot through with references to Biblical themes- redemptive messianic moments set to stirring music, and displayed by beautiful polished people…

Is this a good thing? Surely using mass media to convey something truthful about God is a good thing?

I confess to cynicism. Hollywood is about manipulating images for profit. Do we really want to sell Jesus in this way?

But then movies remain the shapers of mass consciousness perhaps like nothing else…

I think I will steer clear of Godsploitation movies- unless to suck from them some emerging-post-modern humour. Call me shallow if you will!

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…

Kindness- as a measure of spiritual maturity

Another great collection on Radio 4’s start the week programme. Listen again to it here.

There was this fascinating discussion about KINDNESS, relating to this new book, co written by a psycho analyst Adam Philips  and Historian Barbara Taylor.


They appear to take the view that our society has retreated from kindness as a way of interacting and engaging with the people around us. We assume that we are no longer inter-dependent and needful of others, and so kindness becomes identified with a kind of weakness and vulnerability.

They go as far as to suggest that we tend naturally towards kindness, but learn to suppress this as we grow into our culture. All Kindness, suggests Philips, is a RISK- but a risk that is transformative in the taking.

There is a review of this book in Guardian by Mary Warnock where she says this

Kindness to others arises out of sympathy. As the authors note, there is much evidence that other animals besides human beings (or “men” as they properly designate them) can enter into the sufferings and fears of others of their kind. But it is human animals alone who, because of their imaginative powers, can enter into the feelings of other people far removed from them, whom they cannot see or touch, but whose plight as fellow-humans they can share

In the Gospel of St Luke, a lawyer is told by Jesus that to live well he must love his neighbour as himself and, when he further asks who is to count as his neighbour, Jesus answers with the story of the good Samaritan, for many the very essence of Christianity. Kindness here arose spontaneously, not in obedience to any rule, in fact in defiance of convention. But as Christianity became increasingly ecclesiastical and hierarchical, with the consequent corruption of the priesthood, the good Samaritan was forgotten.

The new Protestantism declared man to be fundamentally sinful, such good actions as he could do dependent on the grace of God; and so the possibility of natural kindness disappeared.

So we come back to Jesus, and his call to live for a radically different agenda, according to the rules of a New Kingdom. And one of the watch-words of this new kingdom- is kindness.

It is one of those fruit listed by Paul as evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (See here for some more ponderings on this.)

When we come into contact with kindness at a point of real need, we rarely forget it. It lives on in our souls. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians- all sorts of other loud and visible manifestations of faith will clang like gongs and then fall silent- but love will last for ever.

Which makes me think again about the myth of the super-Christian. I am interested in the stature aquired and the adoration we give to some of our leaders- perhaps for their charisma, their vision or their oratory power. When one of these paragons of Christianity falls from Grace, how dreadful it seems… how shocking.

Might this be because we measure spirituality according to a strange criteria? We equate knowledge with understanding, declaration with practice and power with ordination from on high.

Might we best return to a simple measure- of kindness shown, and a skew towards grace in all things. These are the leaders I look for. Jesus has ruined the others for me!

Last resort


Whilst continuing with our project to finally have a bedroom that it is possible to enjoy being in, I was listening to Radio 4. Highly recommended for entertainment whilst grouting tiles…

Todays offering was a programme called The human button.

It was all about the people whose job it is, either as politicians or members of the armed services, to potentially bring death to millions. They interviewed men who flew Vulcan bombers in the 1960’s, signing a receipt for their Blue Streak Nuclear missiles before take off. Unimaginable destruction in the hands of a 24 year old man.

But the most fascinating bit of all concerned a little known bit of British Armageddon etiquette, called ‘Letters of last resort’.

It seems that one of the first jobs each incoming Prime Minister is to be given instruction about the operation of Britain’s 4 Trident nuclear submarines- one of which is kept at sea at any one time, as a so-called ‘deterrent’ to any other nuclear power that should have itchy fingers over their own big red buttons.

And one of the things they have to do, is to write a letter, in their own handwriting, to each of the 4 submarine Captains. These ‘letters of last resort’ give final instruction to the Captains, should it’s line of command have been destroyed by a nuclear attack- in other words, if all of us (and our Prime Minister) are dead.

The options that the Prime Ministers have are;

  1. Retaliate
  2. Do not retaliate
  3. Place yourself under the command of the USA or Australian Governments

Few Politicians have ever revealed what instructions their letter contained. The letters are destroyed, unopened, at the change of an administration. One Prime Minister however, Jim Callaghan, revealed that he would have retaliated. Another Labour politician, Dennis Healey suggested he would not have done, as at that point the primary purpose of a nuclear deterrent would already have failed.

I find it comforting and terrifying in equal measure that even this potential last act of the human race is so… human.

The shadow cast by the cold war passes by our house every couple of months as the black menacing shapes of the Trident submarines leave the Clyde and head out on their dreadful patrols.

If we have no politician who would stop this madness, let us at least hope for people whose last resort is not to rain down death on other people’s children.