Christmas at Greenbelt

Greenbelt did not disappoint. As we had the children with us the festival had a very different spin for me. It was great to see the children get so much out of it, and thanks go out to those who made the festival work so well for families. Stuff like the drumming, statues, artwork, etc around the site was great for us, the shed camera obscurer was fantastic, and Jo as ever loved the sacred space on the top floor of the grandstand. Also the programmed family stuff was great fun, the twist and children’s festival, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus etc.

The one seminar I really wanted to go to I made – Pete Rollins who spoke about faithful betrayal, which was excellent. I recently read his book How not to speak of God which I think is a very important contribution to the current dialogue, I recommend it as the best book I have read for ten years. His talk begins to pilot a theology of redemption as a rupture and gives a great background to some of the issues I raised in the series of post about redefining church, for example see point 4 in this post.

Greenbelt for me is better than a family Christmas, I see so many people I have good relationships with, who I know are on a similar journey. People I now only reconnect with at Greenbelt, but who get me, and as ever the whole festival was a thin place where heaven and earth were a lot closer.

Tithes (and where they go)

Heard someone comment the other day (and I really ought to be able to attribute this to someone, but can’t remember who it was) that in the Old Testament the tithe was for the poor and that somehow the church today has managed to divert it towards other stuff, like expensive buildings etc. This kinds of relates to my finishing paragraph on this post.

It’s not that I think that the tithe is for today anyway (10% seems a bit odd considering our whole lives ought to be a sacrifice), but it was a great comment!!!

Oh, I know, it was Shane Claibourne speaking at Greenbelt.

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…


Getting ready for Greenbelt and really looking forward to the weekend as the line up looks great. When start looking at the programme I usually find it is either year when the speakers are the main attraction or the music but this year I cant decide as both look great. BUT as ever the best thing about Greenbelt is catching up with people.

If you are coming to Greenbelt and would like to camp in roughly the same area as us, we have a map and grid reference, we cant save you space but it may mean we have more chance of bumping into you over the weekend (probably queuing for the loo rather than the beer tent as we have the children with us). If you are interested then drop me an email and I will send out the details.

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!!!

Denominational Differences

Today I was having my irregular chat with a Jehovah’s Witness (who visits me) and we got onto the topic (unsurprisingly perhaps) of denominational differences and how Churches can oppose each other in some respects (in fact, I note today that Jonathan Bartley observes that Christians even sometimes kill other Christians!).

Naturally JWs come out of this as shining examples of unity – so I was pondering as to why this was and whether the reasons mattered.

Now, JWs claim to be the one true church and so claim complete unity across the one true church. What are the reasons for this unity (the following are my speculation, not to be taken as perfect science!):

  1. The Boundary – the JW church has a boundary, you are either in or out.
  2. The Institution – the JW church is a strictly controlled institution which cannot be duplicated. It wouldn’t be possible to start another JW church that is separate to the original.
  3. The Sect – because it is a sect that is on the edge of the Judaism family tree, if another sect were to form from it, they would recast themselves significantly.
  4. Modes of Dis-integration – if JWs leave they do not leave to form close derivative churches, they either leave the (broad) concept of Christian belief entirely or just go into an existing church.
  5. The Theology – essential to JWs is the expectancy that one should accept the whole JW Theology. There is little room for disagreement.

These are the major points of difference with the rest of the Christian Church, although many churches will have varying degrees of the above properties.

Examining the above points, what is the problem with the wider church?

It is my impression that differences appear between Christians because they meet in an institutionalised manner rather than in the manner of close friends – i.e. we Christians think it is important to tackle differences of opinion with people we barely know, simply because they are in the same institution and, because we barely know them, it is easy to fall out with them.

Another point is that we often make out that our opinion is our faith. Both myself and Reg (the JW) agreed that there is only one truth, so, for there to be clashes in people’s belief of what that one truth is, must mean that one or both of those people are believing something which isn’t true – i.e. the casting of an opinion as a matter of faith. A bit more humility about what we believe would be helpful, but haven’t we all been taught that we mustn’t doubt our faith? Well if we doubt our opinion, we aren’t doubting our faith! So I wouldn’t worry too much about that!

The wider Christian Church places less emphasis on scripture than the JWs and more emphasis on the personal revelation of the Holy Spirit (often of Scripture). JWs place an emphasis on specific interpretations of scripture and no emphasis on personal revelation. In some ways the JW approach is safer – it certainly appeals to the rules based security that our culture likes so much. On the other side of the fence you could say that the wider church is much more anarchic and dangerous!

My Dad told me the other day that ‘Uncle’ Sid Purse (who founded the the church that I grew up in at South Chard) said:

“The Church is an organism, not an organisation”

which I thought an excellent comment which works in many ways including the understanding of the church as being the body of Christ.

Anyway, I feel that the opportunity to chat with Reg (JW) is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of church – so I would be most appreciative of your comments, but I don’t want this to become a ‘why the JWs are wrong’ thread! That really isn’t the point of this post. Thanks.

Vote for Pedro

Just watched Napoleon Dynamite. What a great film. I know sometimes I catch on late and it is already a bit of a cult classic, but worth finding and watching if you haven’t seen it. Loads of resources for the youth worker as well. Would make my top ten films of all time.

The Power of Exclusion

Another thing that Bartley mentions (in passing) near the beginning of the book (mentioned here) is the way the church could exclude people, and through exclusion exercise power and control.

This is a very limited form of control, by exclusion one is not actively controlling the life of the excluded, one is simply controlling one’s own life (or a group are simply controlling their own lives) and choosing not to spend much/any time with that particular person.

However, to exclude someone, a tough judgement has to take place: Is this person so bad/far gone that it isn’t wise to spend time with them? That isn’t a nice and easy question to answer, it has hard repercussions. It is also a fairly public judgement that can have a negative effect on oneself (alongside the positive effect of not being adversely influenced by that person).

It’s a tough thing to do, but I do feel that it is a choice that we must continually make. Yes, it is part of the concept of exclusive church (hopefully alongside inclusive mission) and also we can’t expect exclusion to be perfectly exercised – there will always be the ‘weeds’ amongst the ‘wheat’.

I expect that Bartley will cover this more in the rest of the book – so maybe there will be more comment to come on this.