Lead us out of exile

It has been so encouraging to see the recent discussion on the role of women in the church sparked by the huge inequality highlighted in lack of women speakers as mainstream conferences. Jenny has a great post here that tracks the conversation and expands the issue.
However we recognise the representation is only part of the issue, and i want to suggest that the changes required run far deeper and may not be possible in the current paradigm. As father to two amazingly gifted daughters 6 and 16 I am always on the hunt for stuff to help them grow into the people they are called to be. I am so greatfull to know people like Jenny Baker and Sally Nash and other female leaders of great integrity, who I go to with questions and guide me to resources and books such as Maya Angelou that I can share together with my children. But there is massive lack of radical faith inspired feminist writing aimed at teens and younger girls or at least stuff I can find.

The recent discussions raises two issues for me, that are connected. The first which Jenny already highlights in her post, is the issue of mentoring and supporting young women into leadership roles. Again I think this is a paradigm issue, one of the strengths of the early feminist movement was its clarity in setting up alternative structures and spaces to the established systems. I would like to suggest that the emerging church has far more to offer my daughters and is already encouraging them towards fullness of life not because of a quota, but a commitment to inclusivity, different leadership approaches, and humanity. For example Cakeful our Sunday thing, is often led by our 6 year daughter, and recently she asked to lead a session around time, and asked for support from Tracey an adult in the group. Tracey was amazing she offered Indi a planning meeting mid week, despite a busy schedule sat down with her, and planned together, which simply made my daughter beam. Watching this process was truly emancipating for my daughter and myself. I believe it is this type of approach that if practiced consistently is the best hope for young women in the church but more that that the best hope for the church to be led from its self induced exile due it’s inherent sexism and lack of inclusivity at all levels. So the second issue (sticking my neck out here and more than a little nervous in saying this) is a call for the amazing female leaders I know and thousands I don’t, to embrace the new paradigm, to create alternative structures and spaces, radical resources and methods, that directly challenge the status quo, rupture the institutions, recapture the feminist agenda in the minds of young people, and lead not just other women but eventually the whole church out of exile.

Our best hope is not in playing by the rules of the dominant, where position, gender, wealth, and power dictate, but in embracing the upside down Kingdom, of powerlessness, servanthood and grace, and it is those who have experienced oppression of the powerful that have so much to offer.

I doubt it ….

I recall how at 18 still at college I worked nights in a printers, doing a social care course meant there was hospital bed in the tutor room to practice lifts etc. one week I had completed 2 nights and at 10am we sat down in class to watch a video I moved to the bed for a better view. My tutor woke me just before 4pm, they knew my situation and simply left me asleep, whilst extreme it was acts of kindness and compassion that got me through. The course cut me a lot of slack, gave me opportunities, and simply tried to understand. It is this lack of trying to understand, lack of compassion and basic humanity that gets to me about the current government and proposals

yesterday I asked Could the 16 year old me survive today….fleeing home today would I get support…. are there any local youth workers left I could run to…. with the erosion of EMA could I attend college… the option of working nights in the printers is gone as has so much of the manufacturing industry, the chance of another job to support myself with over a million other unemployed youth would be slim… would I even entertain the idea of Uni and all that debt in such bleak surroundings as a caravan… I doubt it…. If I did get as far a uni why would I need to return to my home area to give back what I wouldn’t have received in the first place….. and so how will cuts, stigmatisation of young people play out in the long run….

Could the 16 year old me survive today?

I wept this morning. I cried for young people who have been have been vicitimised, marginalised and oppressed by the governments response to the recession of cutting services, I cried with the young people who will continue to be the ones who suffer most as we enter economic recovery which the government wants to promote with further cuts. The latest government proposals on young people, demonstrate a society that has lost its way, a society of selfishness, greed and power.

I wept this morning as friends responded to my post on facebook about my own situation as a NEET (not in employment, education or training) 16 year old. I left home, not willingly, not out of choice but out of necessity after my father who had been sober for 5 years started to drink again. My sister helped, the state helped, I was not stigmatized, I had time to get my head together, I had time to start to find out who I really was, out of the shadow of my father, I survived, I flourished. As I write the tears start again for the young people I met this week on the streets who do not have the same opportunity I had, I see them in my minds eye and I am simply distraught at what the future holds if current government plans continue.

Out of the shadows of my childhood, I began to explore my vocation, and pathway into youthwork. Unsurprisingly I left school with no O’levels but at 17 I was accepted to do a further education City and Guilds course in Leisure and Recreation. A course I started late because it took a while to see if I could get a grant and benefit to live and study. I moved onto to do Social Care and an A level, with a student grant and working nights in a printers and the fabulous support of my sisters family who let me live in the caravan in the garden, I began to mature and come to terms with who I was. At 19 I thought I was ready, but quickly realized I needed to go to Uni if I was going to do the youth work stuff properly, and that meant I needed more grant support. At that time automatic vocational grants (the first to go) had been cut and I remember sitting around an appeals table in County Hall in Exeter explaining my case to a panel of 15 adults, and making a simple promise to come back to the county for at least a year once graduated to help other young people.

Two years later, JNC youthwork qualification in hand, I returned to my sisters garden to live in her shed (the caravan was rusted away) and make good the promise I made in County Hall. At 21 I established my first detached youth work project in Devon, I worked part time and received housing benefit that helped make ends meet. I remember the young people I worked with 23 years ago, I remember them coming to the shed (my house) to plan how to establish a youth centre for the area, I recall the youth centre that was built on the basis of these proposals, and I still hear occasional stories from my sister about the work in the town. For those of you who know me, you will be familiar with the rest of my story, my long history with Frontier Youth Trust. My first paid post working and living on a difficult estate in the Midlands as part of YFC,(which incidentally encouraged my dad to shake my hand before I left Devon as he thought I had a proper job!) It was on this estate where I met real need first hand in my neighbors and began to learn what it means to be real community from them. Leaving to work for Worth Unlimited, with a job brief to make it work or close it down, but who now do an amazing job under a great CEO in Tim Evans in so many difficult areas across the country. Then more recently into StreetSpace who now meet over 8000 young people a month on the edge a month. I recall these stories, not to say look at me but to simply ask would the 16 year old me survive today. Asking this simple question causes the tears to return again as I know the answer would be no. Tears of gratefulness to my sister’s family and to the state without who I would not have survived. So the tears of thanks turn to a weeping that flows freely for the 1000s of young people I still hear about as youth worker, who share elements of my story, or far worse circumstances, growing up in a society that has lost its way…

What are you going to do today?

When Ferris Bueller picks up Sloane for a day bunking off school she asks:

Sloane: What are we going to do?

Ferris: The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”

Cameron: Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home.

Ferris: [to the camera] If you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away?


Ferris: Neither would I.

We have more than a car – what are you going to today?

Resonnance and disconitunity – Reflections on Wright and Cron GB12

There was some great stuff at GB this year, and I didn’t get to very much of it. Two I did were Tom Wright and Ian Cron, both were excellent but in two very different ways. Ian spoke about his memoir and much of his personal story resonated with my own, (not that my father was in the CIA). His personable style and content meshed well with my own experiences of my father, and offered cracks where the light of his story could penetrate the darkness of my own. Tom on the other hand was simply excellent on the content as he outlined 4 typologies present in the gospels to hold in tension as we explore the wholeness of Jesus. However in some ways his strength of being so clear about each type although excellently delivered, well structured,etc seemed discontinuous with my own experience. As a Gen X and post modern product the idea of holding these types in tension is second nature to me and most of my contemporaries, with a level of theological literacy. So I came away wondering what was the agenda?

One Minute Man

A good friend of mine James and occasional blogger on this site has started an on line blog/site one minute man here. I have to admit my own lack of emotional intelligence but am finding the tips really helpful. The site is worth a visit for the Bill bailey clip and tip alone.

15 things I love about the StreetSpace Community of Practice

1. They help me with my spelling
2. We have a laugh
3. They hold me to account, and most have no problem telling me whats what.
4. They are not too quick to label themselves a movement
5. We share, experience, stories, hopes, dreams and a generosity of spirit.
6. We gathered from Scotland to Southsea
7. The creativity is amazing,- practical and ideas wise
8. The gathering tried different ways to include those who couldn’t be there
9. We have a vicar who knows Wu Tang Clan, and another growing church in a coffee shop that used to be where Two Tone records were based
10. People have no problem with disruptive experiences.
11. We apprentice one another
12. When we gather, unless you know you cant tell who is paid and who is voluntary
13. People read stuff, write stuff and ground it.
14. They don’t take the easy road, and they make sacrifices for others and their communities.
15. If you asked me what does it look like to have a heart for young people on the edge I could say look at any one of our projects!

read up on Community of Practice HERE

The Gathering Part one

This weekend I am at the StreetSpace Gathering. It is a coming together of about 35 people from across the network with 18 of the 36 projects represented. The whole event is developed using a participative processes. Last night we kicked off with a pictionary ice breaker (draw an activity you do the others dont know you do). The aim is to encourage an equality across the group and not go for the I am XX with this many young people in our contact etc.

We then used a random word generator to spark a creative thinking process as the begininng for the themes we will discuss as a group over the weekend. The Random words were:
– Turntable
– Leaflet
– Mystic
– Passive
Each table mind mapped the words and then people swapped tables to gather the wisdom from the other.
We ended up with three themes we will discuss as a whole group this morning:
– How do we develop mysticism and next level spirituality with young people?
– Social media – Practical advice, Benefits, and Communication
– Being Authentic Us and Others
We also developed a further 6 themes we will use in break out groups.
– Values
– Mentoring Peacemakers
– Change what does it mean?
– Learning Passive and Active – How do you build emotional intelligence in an active learning style/ with chaotic yp
– Money
– The Balance Mission/Personal/Professional

A parable for Occupy

Making money had not been difficult for Jimmy, he had a good stack of cash from his dad, invested it in property, employed builders, did up houses and soon started to diversify.

At first he bought the building supplies yard, that way not only could he control the builders but also the prices. After having some stuff nicked, he started a private security business which was soon being used by most of the local shops.

Then he diversified into rentals, buying land and building small properties for renters that couldn’t afford much. It wasn’t generosity, it was an economy of scale. Lots of small flats brought in the same rent a large house.

In an age of no welfare state or government handouts, he pretty much controlled the town, owned most the land and was mayor in all but name. He had a close selection of business associates who he thought of as friends, but they knew which side their bread was buttered.

As he and a few people grew richer, the town grew poorer so Jimmy extended his security business as a sort of local police force to keep the locals in line. This meant he could increase his charges to other businesses to keep them safe and everyone knows it takes money to make money.

Jimmy thought himself happily married, with a mistress or two on the side, and two children (that he knew of). When his daughter turned 21 it was time to celebrate with a masked ball. The theme was winter and everyone would be provided with appropriate clothes, to ensure the elegance of the event and that the theme was suitably expressed.

After many months of planning he sent out invites to the great and good of the community, the people Jimmy thought of as friends. A few simply didn’t reply, probably because Jimmys private police force had been too heavy handed recently and the taxes felt more like extortion money. A few replied and said they were too busy to attend, not really wanting to come but trying to keep Jimmy on side.

As the day drew near the marquee for the party was put up covering the football pitch. Two others were erected for changing rooms for guests. Caterers were bought in, musicians prepped and waiters found. The only hitch was that no none was coming. Jimmy arranged a second invite but grew impatient. However, sending out a second invitation made good business sense,a good party was a chance to network, make a few more contacts.

Word had spread amongst the business leaders that no one was attending and so they became bolder, as in solidarity they felt more secure about their excuses or non replies. But their ‘security’ was short lived, in a rage Jimmy ordered the police to break their windows, and when the owners went for replacements he hiked the prices of repairs and controlled the supply. He increased the rent of these ‘friends’, and ordered the mayor to evict those who didn’t replace the damaged windows as it wasn’t in keeping. Soon Jimmy had driven away, beaten up, or simply killed his supposed friends and business allies.

Not wanting the party to fail he invited the tenants from the flats, knowing that people would scrub up well enough and he had the right clothes ready for them to wear. He would need to replace the business leaders he had driven out anyway and might recruit suitable people at the party. The invitation was delivered by the private police force and it was made clear attendance was required, besides which rumors and stories of what had happened to the great and good of the town were rife.

As one of the tenants explained to her husband, they had to go, even the people who had a bit of money behind them and had refused Jimmy’s invitation had been had been attacked, who were they to refuse. Besides which there may be a future in it and at least she got to wear a fine dress and eat well at Jimmy’s expense.

The party started, and was going with a swing, contacts were being made as Jimmy identified a few people to rent the shops and agreed to replace a few windows at cost to get things moving again. The only blot had been the appearance of a small tent occupying the mouth of the goal on the football pitch. No one pointed it out to Jimmy and besides, what did it matter? But Jimmy had noticed it, and started to make plans to get them removed the following day, he would do it legally, and without fuss, whilst tonight he would focus on the party, after all life goes on.

It was later that evening that Jimmy spotted him, well he could hardly be missed in his ripped jeans and t-shirt that simply said ‘Occupy’. Everyone else had worn the clothes provided as instructed. The audacity, the sheer nerve, Jimmy thought, to come in here eat the food, drink the wine, and not wear the right clothes. But by wearing a simple t-shirt the occupier showed the fine dresses and suits for what they were, a nothing, a falsehood to open doors and enable the same mistakes to be repeated. Jimmy saw the irony, the threat, and how powerful the powerless man in a t-shirt was. He called security, had the man stripped naked, beaten, and killed.

The lack of resistance from the man was breathtakingly, his quiet humility seemed to pave a way for all the onlookers to take a different path if they too would lose the trappings of power, but for many the cost would be too high a price to pay.

Also see The wedding banquet from below

Uneven Cuts

Hope has sustained me, but as I look at the situation in our country and how uneven, unfair and unjust a situation we find ourselves in, my hope is waning. The reports coming out from organistions such as the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Trust, or the National Council for Voluntary Youth services show how the poorest and most marginalised are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The wholesale dismantling of the youth service at a time of highest youth unemployment is one of the stupidest and shortsighted practices of the last 100 years. Usually the optimist in me would see the idea of the Big Society as an opportunity but already I see that again that it will be the most marginalised that will be most affected. It is already becoming clear that the investment needed to resource work with hardest to reach young people will simply not manifest itself, either in terms of people, skills, or money, as the voices of a powerful few sweep up the crumbs of what money is left, or baton down the hatches and become even more insular, to weather out the storm, and unfortunately this is a pattern I see both in the church and the local authority.
Occupy offered me hope, and as the leader of StreetSpace which has to be one of the fastest growing youth work agenicies my hope is still an ember, but I have to remind myself and challenge to church to recognise the inequality of the cuts, the simple injustice, that the poorest communities and young people are not to blame to for the situation we find ourselves in… so here is my reminder……