Having All In Common

Acts 2:44
All the believers were together and had everything in common.

I was thinking for a few moments about this today and I found myself framing this issue with a question:
What is it that worries us about sharing possessions?

I think it is the fear that our contribution will be abused – that our generosity will be taken advantage of, that we will not be able to count on others to be fair and considerate.

In itself, sharing your possessions or having shared possessions is quite a joyous practice. You get a heightened sense of usefulness, a sense of giving, as sense of helping. The sharing is a positive, it is the abuse that is negative.

Why is it that we cannot trust our brothers and sisters, that we cannot rely on them to be considerate? Is this a shortcoming of our relationship with them. Is our fear of having common property simply an indicator about the state of our relationships?

If so, what can be done? I’m challenged to be closer and more involved with the people I call my Christian friends.

These thoughts have sprung my considerations about what is private property and what is ‘common’ property. Are even our labours (perhaps our most personal and private resource) common property in the new Kingdom?

Drumming up community

Last weekend I started a course on Therapeutic drumming. I had never joined a drumming circle before but it was a powerful experience that helped me move my feet and connect with my emotions.

Drumming is one of those ancient practices that has been used for communication and healing and that many people connect with today. There is much evidence about the physical and emotional healing impact of the drum and how it helps people to connect with the soul.

The circle and the beat helped people to connect with each other and begin to be authentic with other in a very short space of time, it seemed to evoke a sense of community, openness and togetherness that I have found it hard to discover in church settings.

One of the core principles about a drum circle is that everybody can participate,, everybody is equal, there is no right or wrong way, no judgement, no dogma, no gender issues, no power stuff – just a sense of let’s celebrate our humanity and be one in spirit.

I was left wondering what a beautiful experience this was and looking forward to meeting up again.

What Poverty Today?

If we strip out the UK government definition of poverty as being those households with an income of lower than 60% of the average UK income, then we are left with the question of what poverty is there in the UK today?

In theory UK welfare and bankruptcy laws should provide for the needs of daily life, such as food and shelter. However, I do recognise that the application of this theory is fraught – I have personally had to spend time helping a friend claim what was due her (after she had suffered injuries that had made her unable to work). It’s as if our society wants to make it as hard as possible to keep one’s head above water in difficult circumstances.

So apart from money troubles due to the lack of help available to get the benefits of bankruptcy or welfare (and these are far from insignificant matters) what poverty do we have today?

My post the other day about the well-being of our children made me think that perhaps a large problem was the amount of time that family members spend with each other.

This is essentially what is behind the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign – the idea that families need to spend more time together. However, because I don’t see any theological reason for Sunday actually being a special day, then I would rather tackle the issue directly rather than attempt to tell people that they shouldn’t work on Sunday. The church needs to wake up to the needs of those that work on a Sunday and change from having what is generally regarded as a key time within the church on a Sunday morning.

So I guess it comes down to providing for people’s poverty. If the poverty is a lack of quality time together then do things that enable people, from diverse backgrounds, to be able to have that time together.

Whilst I’m not sure that I would back a ‘keep dinner special’ campaign or a ‘play boardgames instead of watching TV’ campaign there are surely things we can do.

What are the things that are eating into people’s family time?

  • Sports
  • Watching sports
  • TV viewing
  • Ready meals and easy snacking
  • I’m sure that there are many others…

… but that last one gives me an idea:
Meals for Families

I think that that will need to be my next post!

What’s the Matter with our Children

I’ve just written this news item for Ekklesia.

It highlights the fact a number of problems related to the well-being of our children in the UK.

For more information read the author’s version of the report here.

What is particularly interesting to me is are the results showing that young people in their upper teens have the second lowest measure of combined career aspirations (amongst those studying) and employment (amongst those not studying). Also, whilst UK children live in homes with by far the largest number of rooms per person, this material wealth isn’t translated into general well-being or a responsible attitude to the future. The study shows that the country ranks at the bottom for family structures that are beneficial for the development of children. The UK’s children do not tend to eat, or even talk very much with their parents. Not only that, but their friends are relatively unkind and unsupportive. Children from the UK also have the riskiest patterns of behaviour including sexual behaviour and drug use.

The report states

“there is substantial evidence that children in single parent as well as in step families tend to have worse outcomes than peers living with both biological parents (Kamerman ‘et al’ 2003; Rodgers and Pryor 1998).”

and

“The family constitutes the most important mediating factor for children’s well-being. An analysis of BHPS youth data found a significant association between the quality of parent-child relationships and young people’s subjective well-being (Quilgars ‘et al’ 2005). Orthner and Jones-Saupei (2003) point to the importance of good family communication for getting children into activities and educational opportunities ‘that will help them succeed’. Qualitative research shows that poor adolescents who have a trusting and supportive relationship to at least one parent are better able to deal with problems (Hoelscher 2003).”

and

“According to an Irish project on child well-being children see friends next to the family as the most important factors for their well-being (Hanafin and Brooks 2005). In fact friendship, the possibility to spend time with friends, to have fun and share problems is of high significance in children’s lives. A ‘best friend’ is often the only person with whom children talk about difficulties they have with their family or friends while being part of a wider group of peers strengthens feelings of belonging. Children are at risk of exclusion from their peer group if they stand out in one way or the other.”

and regarding risky behaviour including sex, drugs and alcohol:

“Adolescence is a time in development in which risk behaviour is very common and young people often engage in it hoping for some positive gains like acceptance in their peer group. In this they tend to underestimate the risks they take.”

This makes pretty bleak reading for UK youthworkers, but it does give us a measure of where we are, what we need to achieve and some issues to tackle

Exactly Who is Doing the Giving?

Bartley brings up the issue of Government funding the church to carry out welfare services. This is a hot topic for many missions of the church including youthwork.

Whilst there are many considerations around the matter, I would like to merely ask: Who is doing the giving?

This is a hard question, but we all need to be careful that we consider it and are aware of it in our own situations.

As Christians, God has asked us to give our lives, as a sacrifice, to put others first. We show love in what we do, because it is our resource that we are giving.

If I give and in my giving I employ someone else to do the work, is it me who is giving or is it my employee? Well, it is me – surely. Sure, there may be the case where my employee is adding his giving on top of mine, perhaps putting in extra hours. That would be the his giving, not mine.

Our love needs to consist of giving of what we have got. Being a ‘professional Christian’ doesn’t mean that you are giving anything – it is only when you go beyond your job that you are giving, or when you receive ‘tiny pay’ (I knew that there was a good reason for such low pay! 🙂 ) – just the same as a shelf-stacking job down at Tesco’s, it is only when you go beyond the requirements of your job that you begin to give.

(note: how fantastically tax efficient it is to be a low paid youthworker and to make your giving your time rather than your money! Alternatively you could give money, but be taxed on the extra income you would need to receive before giving the money away. There isn’t a rule on this though – we just individually have to know God’s calling, and sometimes that can be to make money, possibly…)

When we think about giving let’s start by looking at what we have to give. It doesn’t need to be ‘silver and gold’ of which you may ‘have none’, but it does need to be something that you have.

Don’t seek merely to be an unloving, ungenerous, ungiving conduity of someone else’s love or giving. Don’t seek to merely be an paid arm of the state, or a paid arm of other Christians.

Sure, join with others who want to give, join with those who want to fund (as long as they have the same ultimate aims and wish to use the same methods as you), but don’t forget where your giving ends and someone else’s giving begins.

Ultimately it is giving what God has freely given us that matters.

Youthwork is a fantastically important thing to be doing – do make sure that the youth can see that you are not just giving other’s resources, but that you are giving your own too. It is that that gives you authenticity.

As an aside, I’ve just come across a case where (non-church) parents were given a letter by the youthwork explaining that as so much money went on upkeep of the church building it would be useful for parents to contribute to the youth activities. I was a bit bemused that the church felt it worth saying that the building was a higher priority than the people and that, whilst the church was willing to spend hundreds of pounds a week on the building, it wasn’t willing to spend a much smaller amount on people…

Reasons for Political Radicalisation of Christians

Reading “Faith and Politics After Christendom” by Jonathan Bartley I’m fascinated by the section where he gives different examples of the action of politically radicalised Christians. It seems common that, as our society ‘descends’ (?) into Post-Christendom and loses many of the laws and cultural norms brought about by Christianity’s involvement in government, Christians decide to take action and do something about it in the political sphere.

Bartley broadly categorises this into positive and negative responses:

  • Where Christians are shocked at moral loosening and wish to reintroduce stricter morals by regulation.
  • Where Christians see injustice and wish to encourage government to ‘do something about it’.

Now, I can see that these two categories do exist (and bear in mind that Barley points out that many people involved in these things will have a broad mix of motive that may include both categories), but I’m not sure that they are as different as they first appear.

Surely they both break down into these aspects:
People are being wronged (maybe they know they are [obvious injustice] or maybe they don’t know that they are [moral damage]) and some Christians, who are politically motivated, want to impose a solution on society (whether it is prohibitive law or ‘positive’ action by the state).

We must surely note that even the more ‘positive’ of these two categories does include the taking or diminishing of resources from some people (perhaps taxation) and applying those resources to people as the radicalised group sees fit. A bit of spin and the opportunity to tell people how wonderful this piece of justice is (justice that we as Christians are called to practice in our lives) can promote the action in a positive light, but we also must remember that it is reliant on the backbone of the law, reliant on the ability to control people with the ultimate resort to violence.

Now, if you don’t believe my last point then note this example: A man chooses not to pay his taxes. By law the people (the state) dictate that people pay their taxes. Does this man get to keep his freedom? No, he is put in prison. What stops him continuing to exercise his freedom? The fact that if he were to try to do so people would stop him. Ultimately society is able to restrain, and if necessary be violent against that person in order to force that person to either cooperate or to accept punishment.

So, in my mind, both these categories of radicalised action fall into the trap of trying to control others, rather than trying to be an example to others and trying to love others (without at the same time trying to control others). I don’t yet know what Bartley’s tack on this is, but I look forward to reading on!!!

Are Non-Christians Better at Government

I’ve just started reading the third book in the “Church after Christendom” series:
Faith and Politics After Christendom – The Church as a Movement for Anarchy
by Jonathan Bartley
Without doubt it will inspire me to a few posts over the next week or so, as I read it.

Anyway, to kick off, how about the suggestion that Christians don’t make good governors in this world…

We read in the Bible that God appoints all governments (Rom 13:1). Now to my mind there isn’t a government that doesn’t indulge in a little violence and control (after all, a govt that didn’t wouldn’t be a govt for long!). Bear in mind, this is at the request of the people – after all, if ‘we’ pay taxes, then we’re sure going to make sure that everyone else does too!

At this stage in my reading of the book we see the view (common in the early church) that we are not here to exercise control over people and see to it that criminals are punished.

I tend to agree with that broad perspective – which implies that non-Christians, with less concerns in this area, are very likely to make better governments in secular society.

You may have noticed this tendency in my thinking before

Authenicity and Love

Further to AJ’s comment and my reply I came across this from Herni Nouwen society which kind of sums up what I meant

The Source of All Love

Without the love of our parents, sisters, brothers, spouses, lovers, and friends, we cannot live. Without love we die. Still, for many people this love comes in a very broken and limited way. It can be tainted by power plays, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, and even abuse. No human love is the perfect love our hearts desire, and sometimes human love is so imperfect that we can hardly recognise it as love.

In order not to be destroyed by the wounds inflicted by that imperfect human love, we must trust that the source of all love is God’s unlimited, unconditional, perfect love, and that this love is not far away from us but is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling within us.

Authenticity and Community

What makes for an ideal christian community? If there were one thing I would value it would be around autheniticity. Not the notion of being authenitic to a particular tradition but to yourself balanced with authenticity to how you understand the tradition that you have absorbed and connects with who you are in the image of God. Yet there is more than this because if our relevation of God is of the balanced Trinity and one who makes the first move towards us then this too must be part of our understanding of who we are and HOW we can begin to be authenitic.

RE-Centre

Sorry for the confussion Phil.
What I wondered or questioned is many people say due to post modernity there is no overarching meta narrative but I was questioning this assumption and think the metanarrative may have been replaced with a new overarching story that is mosaic of popular culture. eg in the past people found their place by how they related to the meta narrative of the time and now people find their place in relation to pop culture, ie we use it to help us interact with one another, people define themselves by the latest produce or band or music they adhere to. So whilst the metanarrative is less clear there is commonality to it. Does that make sense?

Hot Shots! the movie