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  • Computer Upgrades - whose call?

    I am just about to upgrade my PC - no, don't get excited, not a shiny new, or even refurbished, sleek laptop or Mac thingamajig; just a bit of software that will, hopefully, transform my steam driven Windows 98 into XP allowing me to add new software I need for my academic work which will not run under Windows 98.  I got it for just over £60 on Ebay (new, sealed) which is a good price.  Then I thought, hang on, this is for work, not pleasure, so who should pay?

    I try not to envy those whose churches supply all their needs (and a few wants it sometimes seems) but am conscious how much time and effort I spend on saving my lot money and/or just providing stuff myself.  I guess if I ever manage to get hold of the tax man (whose phone is always engaged) I could offset against tax - indeed, I suspect, despite the small amount of funeral income, Mr Taxman would end up paying me.  So, is it reasonable to ask the church to pay £30? £10? £50?  Answers on a post card (and big donations to HMF!)

  • Seven Sayings for Remembrance Sunday

    Somehow in my preaching plan, I managed to forget Remembrance Sunday.  It is not my favourite event but, here in Dibley, it is something people like to keep.  Last year I was quite pleased with what we achieved - it was creative and it was challenging: trouble is I had set myself up to fail this year as I didn't want to reuse that material but it was so wide ranging I struggled for new ideas.  The CCTBI and Britsh Legion websites - and even the alternatives from more pacifist perspectives - seem to suffer from the unhelpful face of traditional anglican-style liturgy.  In other words, even the 'new' service is very much a civic service with the same old hymns and words, and expectation that the national anthem will be sung.  There is a place for that, of course, but not three o'clock on Sunday afternoon, and not singing the national anthem in a Baptist church.

    medium_shot-dawn3.jpgEventually I settled on the 'The Seven Sayings from the Cross' and am fairly eager to get my head around how I can reflect on them in relation to both remembrance and the horrors of war and violence.  I am also intending to use a sequence of images with the Barber Adagio for Strings as accompaniment - war photos, terrorism photos, local soldier killed this year photos - and then a montage of some of them as a cross.  I think it sort of works.  And at eight minutes plus it cuts down the time I need to talk!

    Is there maybe a place somewhere for sharing alternative ideas for Remembrance services?  I cannot believe I am alone in finding it difficult to know how to handle them.

     (Photo is 'Shot at Dawn' memorial at National Memorial Arboretum Alrewas)

  • A New Thing Springing Up?

    I think I am quite excited today!  I had a meeting with one of my deacons who is an absolute star.  Quiet, lacking confidence, but capable and creative (though claims not to be!) she combines strong loyalty with honest reflection and has real depth of faith and spirituality.  We talked about all sorts, finishing up with the 'New Thing' the church has agreed to start in a pub next year.  The ideas were flowing and suddenly I began to see a shape for this rather nebulous 'thing' that God might be doing.  I have to wait to see what the church folk think but this is where I've got to...

    We are hoping to attract the 20-40-ish agegroup - which given I'm nearly 44 and the youngest member of the church...  Some folk thought we should 'do' Alpha but it really isn't the right starting place for people for whom 'church' or 'Christianity' aren't even on the radar.  Why did Jesus die? Well someone executed him - it's not a question that has meaning beyond the walls of Christian community.  What I am suggesting is a three-stranded approach with different 'entry points' which might appeal to different people.  I would be interested to 'hear' the views of those who are younger and/or involved in this kind of 'stuff'

    The three strands are, crudely, 'relationship', 'faith' and 'spirituality'

    'Relationship' will begin with food (Alpha gets some things right!) and chat at each monthly event.  It will extend to a couple of socials a year but hopefully also deepen into real friendship.  It seems that actually the granny generation relate well to the 20-somethings, so let's give it a go...

    'Faith' will be not be about doctrine or theology, but about trying to explore how faith is relevant to real life.  We hope that by inviting in outside speakers we can look at 'faith and sport,' 'faith and health,' 'faith and politics,' 'faith and science,' even, quite brave for my lot, 'faith and faiths.'  Trying to avoid the Christians setting the agenda for discussions could be interesting but it has immense potential.

    'Spirituality' will run alternate months to 'faith,' not because they are separate but because the styles will be vastly different and rather than a hotch potch I'd rather do each well.  Also it gives two different entry points for people who might be interested in different aspects.  Without hymns, without a sermon, but with lots of multi-sensory 'stuff' it will endeavour to create a space for encounter with God, for praise, thanks, admitting struggles, finding strength for tomorrow, reflecting on scripture and responding to what is heard.  A bit like 24/7 prayer things but not quite.

    Finding a name that does not include 'Dibley,' 'Baptist' or 'Church' is essential - but it needs to be something people will live with too.  Accepting that this venture may lead people to faith but not membership of DBC (or any other church in Dibley) is tough for my oldies but is part of the ethos.  Commitment to disappointment, a long slog and endless criticism - well, hey, what's new there?

    Right now, I am excited at the prospect - I hope my deacons and others can catch the dream!

  • The Chronicles of Prydain

    Way back in the early 1980's, when I was younger and more foolish, I belonged to the 'Word Record Club' as a 'tape' subscriber in the 'contemporary' stream!!!  More often than not I was not quick enough to say 'no' to this month's selection so have a great heap of tapes I never listen to, but among them was one which had a song inspired by Lloyd Alexander's 'The Chronicles of Prydain.'  I liked the song, which spoke of getting in touch with our inner child (not exactly typical1980's Word music stuff!) and for over 20 years (how sad!) I have, now and then, tried to find these books. Now, finally, thanks to Amazon and the renewed interest in stories of this type, I have managed to get hold of them.

    Originally published in the early 1960's, they reflect a more innocent age of story telling and yet explore timeless themes of what it means to be 'noble', to be a 'man' (or a 'young lady'!) of growing up and so on.  While the stories are utterly different from either Narnia or Harry Potter, the parallels with the latter, especially, are quite striking.  The flawed hero (Harry - Taran), the feisty, slightly stroppy girl (Hermione - Eilonwy), the buffoon companion (Ron Weasley - Fflourdor Fflam), the loyal creature who wails all the time (Dobbie - Gurgi).  As a genre, these stories seem to have a very clear style and expectations.  I am enjoying reading the Chronicles; they are far less sophisticated than Harry Potter, and nowhere near as dark; they are not the allegories of Narnia, but contain some equally important truths.

    If you have children ready for fantasy stories but not for J K Rowling's 500 page epics, then these might be a good place to start.  Though after Gurgi's moanings and groanings, Dobbie may not seem so much fun!

  • Random Ramblings on a Monday Morning

    I feel slightly mean, but only slightly, about what I said about my visit to Manchester.  My philosophy on life that nothing is ever wasted means that there are things I will have gained from it, but at the same time I aware how readily we collude with things by our polite niceness.  The balance between naming as poor that which is poor whilst affirming the worth of the individuals involved is a tricky one to get right, and I can't help feeling that nice Christian people are particularly bad at it - why else do we end up with people fulfillig roles for which they are clearly not skilled?  I'm not entirely sure this 'niceness' is consistent with what Jesus did, and certainly not the way it has been throughout history.  Is this a post modern phenomenon?  I have not a clue.  Is it helpful?  Somehow I doubt it.  Yet I collude.  Mia culpa (or however that is spelled).

    So, some thoughts about the weekend. 

    I noted that maybe Ken Leech is so adept at theolgical reflection that it is now entirely intuitive.  Maybe the inconsistencies I detected are more about my understanding of what he was saying than his work?  Back in the days when I did a 'real' job I went on a course to learn how to assess the likelihood of human error invarious different scenarios.   The reality is, in case you ever wondered, that, in so-called hazardous industries, the disasters get caused by people not technology.  People who are under pressure, people whose world view influences them for good or ill, people who are tired, people who are inadequtely trained... you get the drift.  Anyway, part of what we were taught was about stages in learning to do something, and somewhere at the back of a cupboard I still have the notes.  Essentially there are three stages: first, a person has to be shown/told each stage of a task and effectively follows instructions; second, the person can perform the task independently but has to think it through; third the task becomes intuitive and the person performs it without thinking about it.  Since driving a car is one of the most complex tasks we learn as adults, this is the usual example given: stage 1, the driving instructor talks you through every gear change step by step.... stage 2, you can change drive but are still totally conscious of what you are doing (and  likely to crash if you try to change gear and steer at the same time!).... stage 3 you drive along merrily and simultaneously hold a conversation, tune in the radio and notice the speed camera ahead...  maybe Ken is so much at stage 3 that we lesser mortals are not equipped to grasp what he's doing, and he has forgotten long ago what it is like to be at stage 1 or 2.  Or maybe I was just looking for clear evidence of a method/process because that is the nature of my research, and would need more information/time to uncover it?

    One big theme that emerged for me was the subjectivity of what was shared.  Being born into a certain place at a certain point in history had been of immense significance - but also became a set of blinkers though which the world was viewed.  I was intrigued by the potential for lifecycle factors (e.g. Shakespeare's 'seven ages of man') to colour not only our expereince but our research.  Some of my fellow students recongised and empathised with what was said, for those of us under 50, it was not so straight forward.  Having a father who idolised a certain Mrs Thatcher, and clear recollections of the impact of 1970's 3-day week and power cuts under Labour, well my outlook is a bit different.  Mrs T was certainly no saint, but the devil incarnate as some seem to suggest... no it's too simplistic.  Teen years are times of 'absolutes', middle years more times of reflection and uncertainty - all reflection is subjective, and every researcher has an agenda: self awareness is of key import.  Maybe later years are the time of reminisence and tale telling?

    My final thoughts are on 'learning styles' and the way things get delivered in these courses.  Back in my industry days it was simple - you went on a course, they gave you a programme and they delivered it.  Sessions started and ended on time, you had some definite input and then some sort of exercise to check you had understood it.  In the last few years thinking about education seems to have undergone a major shift and everyone uses buzz words like 'learning styles.'  There has been a big shift to make things more appealing to kinesthetic and visual learners, ignoring the more traditional auditory methods; in experiential learning which uses four catgories of 'reflective,' 'theorist,' 'pragmatic' and 'activist' it often feels that the needs of reflectors and theorists are neglected in favour of the other two.  Whilst the greater accessibility to knowledge is to be applauded, the potential for alienating those of us who are (apprarently) auditory reflective-theorists (albeit with pragmatic tendencies) needs to be recognised and addressed.  Rightly or wrongly, at higher levels of education the proportion of adults (i.e. those over abour 25) who are involved are likely to be those who thrived in the auditory regime of the older educational models; whilst we need to be challenged and stretched, and taught how to engage with others who work differently, we also need to be indulged, just a little bit - please!

    This all still sounds a bit negative, but I feel that be recording it I can put it down and move on.  Hopefully I have also learned some tings that will keep me a bit more self aware in my research as I seek to identify ways theology has been 'done' by Baptists and to be a 'critical friend' of my own tradition.