There are sliding cars and potential disasters

As with most of the UK at the moment, we in Bristol have been snowed-in, then iced-in. Driving in the un-treated backstreets of the city is, erm, interesting. Cycling even more so. I’ve done both today.  However, any minor near misses I had are as nothing compared to this little incident in the Totterdown area of the city. Let’s hope the ropes continue to hold…

Quit strumming that guitar and cut the cheesy lyrics

It was fairly early into our marriage that my nearest and dearest gave me an honest assessment of my long-term prospects as a worship leader. I’d fallen into it somehow, either because I was the only guy in the university Christian Union who wore a leather jacket or because everyone else was even worse at the guitar than I (except Keith J, who was *good*). But by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties, I’d been playing the guitar and leading worship for a number of years. The problem was that I’d been listening to jazz-funk instead of Christian albums since I was in my teens and it had infected my strumming style with dangerous backbeats, so it was kind of hard to understand my playing. (That’s my version of the story, anyway.) Like most Christians of my age, I never questioned the lyrics, despite the fact that anyone with a passing acquaintance with Freudian psychology cannot sing “Jesus, take me as I am…” without feeling terribly guilty about the sexual associations it evokes.

How refreshing, then, to read Andy Walker Cleaveland’s blog post on Christian cheesy lyrics, with some concrete examples. This is getting familiar territory: Nick Page has tackled the subject in his book And now let’s move into a time of nonsense but his book suffers because he was (understandably) unable to get permission of any of the song authors to actually cite the examples of silly or meaningless lyrics which his book is about. At last, someone’s pointed out that though Mat Redman’s tunes are good (as examples of the kind of genre in which he composes), his lyrics seldom convey much by way of theological substance – in contrast (I would contend) to the much-maligned Graham Kendrick.

But things aren’t as bad as they could have been. My wife’s early ministry of discouragement (“it’s either the guitar, or me”) has probably saved the Christian world from something much worse.

A year in retrospect

2009 was not the busiest year for this blog. As you can imagine, there’s something of a story behind that which I am now sufficiently distanced from to be able to tell. It’s been a year of ups and downs and at times the downs were almost overwhelming. Looking back over the year’s posts, I’m amazed, in retrospect, that I managed to put out the number of posts that I did.

Ups

One was definitely the chance to move back into theological teaching when I took up a new job as Dean of Non-residential Training at St Michael’s College in Llandaff. I had missed being a teacher of theology over the past ten years and this is one of those things I think I’ve been put on the planet to do. So, although I now miss the rootedness of parish church life, I have the chance to teach again, which is lovely. I’m currently teaching a course in Worship at Cardiff University, which is a very different experience to teaching in a theological college. Also, directed non-residential theological studies is very enriching – people are so motivated and enthusiastic.

Another up was the satisfaction of seeing both of my children at University, with Jonathan doing joint honours Philosophy/History at Sheffield and Caroline doing Biomedical Science at Manchester. Both conveniently located for walking breaks in the Peak District.

Downs

There were two: one was my wife being ill around this time last year, which was very worrying at the time. She is well and healthy again now, but neither of us would wish to go through something like that again in a hurry. We are very thankful for vigilant doctors.

The other one, which though less intense, was more dragged-out, was the saga of our house-move. We had planned to move over the border into Wales so that we both had an equal-length drive between our respective places of work. Eventually, we decided to buy a new-build house. However, one week away from the move date in May, our solicitor called us to say that they had been unable to register the title of the property because part of it was erected on unregistered (ie. unowned) land. Further legal investigation followed, which showed that the house was therefore not worth the money agreed. So we had to pull-out. There followed five months of legal dispute between ourselves and the building firm. There was a horrible point in late May when we were facing the need to buy another house, but with our deposit still being held by the builders and the possibility of having to move out of the house we were in. We had to instigate court proceedings and eventually, the deposit came back, then, after many more months, costs – the legal part of which were nearly £12000 by the end. In the meantime, we had to unpack a house (the diocese, who owned the vicarage, were brilliant) live out of boxes for several months and buy another house. They say moving house is one of the highest stress-points in life. Well, we (almost) did it twice this year. Being one of the parties in litigation proceedings must also be right up there amongst the most soul-destroying activities on the planet.

I realised this year how cumulative stress ultimately gets to you. Add a few little other things, like empty-nest syndrome and the stress (alongside the enrichment) of starting a new job and for a good bit of the summer I was in a bad place. But, thank God, things don’t stay like that forever.

Ups again

We ended up in a lovely, lovely house, this time a victorian one in Bristol, around the corner from lots of good, old friends. The builders settled our claim out of court two days before it went before a judge in October. Although we miss our children and are looking forward to them coming home for the vacation this Christmas, Sharon and I are loving the space, flexibility and relaxation which come from being ‘just a couple’ again. Empty nests are not really empty, when you can both spread yourselves around a bit, and there’s also always a bit of space to squeeze up again when the kids come home. We had some wonderful support from our friends and family and learned to live on a tight budget, with a simple holiday spent camping.

A week or so ago, I was nearly killed on my bicycle by a bus whose driver was not looking in the direction of travel. Mercifully he heard my shout just two inches away from me. I am so grateful to be alive, enjoying the blessings of a healthy wife, a lovely home, two children I am proud of, and the prospect of working out whatever amount of life is left to me in the best and most honourable way possible. For me, 2009 was about the fragility of life and the blessings it carries. I come to the end it with a strong sense of the value of what I have, and a sense of perspective (I hope) about its permanence. The blessings of life seem very tangible at the moment, as is the fact that none of this can be taken for granted. Now back to blogging …

America and Britain: some comments arising from Phyllis Tickle on an 18-month window

Phyllis Tickle has written an intriguing post on the Emergent Village Blog.  Here’s a sample:

Within the next eighteen to twenty-four months, denominations and established communions and the Christians who constitute them will decide, consciously or simply by default, whether “church” is first and foremost an experience of communal bonding, spiritual and religious expression, growth in concert with the ages, radical obedience, adoration, and transport or whether it is first and foremost an institution—one that does business and has structure and also structures which are to be supported, and one that is a means for organized interface with, and shaping of, the world external to it as the best means of effecting the Gospel’s principles upon and within culture.

She points out that these aren’t an either/or option, but a question of where the spiritual emphasis will lie – institutional survival or, if I summarize correctly, ‘pragmatic spiritual community’. She then points out the significance of those Emerging Christians who have opted to stay in their denominations as a context for doing Emerging Church. (Sorry to be so passé using that phrase. If you’re offended, just pretend it’s 2005 and you’ll feel OK…).  Phyllis Tickle continues:

Whether one calls this third body of folk the hyphenateds or by their sect-specific names of Methomergents, Luthermergents, Presbymergents, etc. matters not. What matters is that they are the “X” factor at the moment, What matter is that they are peeling off in increasing numbers from the institutionalized bodies out of which they have come. As they withdraw, they leave those inherited bodies more and more stripped of their resources and energy, certainly. More importantly, however, they also leave those established, inherited communions devoid of disparate voices and arguably more temporally relevant points of view.

America is always changing, so although it’s only just under a year since I last visited, there seems to be a changing of the waters in regard to the place of Emerging Christians in the established denominations. I would be interested to find out from some of my contacts within such circles whether they agree with Phyllis Tickle’s analysis.

The British situation seems considerably distant from these developments.  For several reasons:

  • Although we have had new, non-denominational churches for decades, they have not really eclipsed the continued significance of denominational Churches; the Church of England in particular.
  • The denominational Churches in Britain seem to have been far better at admitting and welcoming Emergent and Fresh Expression forms of Church; again, the Church of England in particular.
  • For those who are interested in Emerging Church, the denominational route (and, boringly again, the Church of England in particular) is at least as viable as an independent option, if not more so

Among Emerging (oops, there I go again! Think ‘2005’ people…) pioneers in Britain, the more pressing question pertains to what Phyllis Tickle describes as the ‘adolescence’ of Emergent Christianity (in the sense that it has left behind its ‘childhood’ and stands on the brink of adult public engagement). This particularly focusses on the question of whether, in Britain, Fresh Expressions/Emerging forms of Church run the risk of losing some of their cutting edge by being absorbed into the life of larger expressions of Church by the welcome and support they have received. A key commentator on this question has been Ben Edson. (See his recent piece on ShareTheGuide.org.)

A key factor in responding to this sort of questioning must surely be whether Fresh Expressions / Emerging Churches are becoming more or less effective missional communities by their continued engagement with denominational (or established non-denominational) churches. That’s a very difficult issue to judge, because, in contrast to the picture being painted by Phyllis Tickle of Emerging Churches in the USA, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of any other game in town in this country.

Mac OS X 10.6

The announcement this week that Apple were releasing the latest update for the Mac operating system has been much reported. Apple stated a while ago that this latest release was more about refinements than new features, but sometimes refinements are better. The upgrade price from Leopard is merely £25, which raises the question as to what you get for this. The answer is larger than I’d assumed. For me, the biggest reason to upgrade is that it will be possible for non-iPhone owners (such as myself) to syncronise contacts with their Googlemail account, to quote:

Now everyone, not just iPhone users, can synchronise their contacts through MobileMe, Yahoo! and Google.

In addition,

users of multi-touch trackpads on older macs also get three- and four-finger gestures.

My trackpad accepts two-finger gestures (for scrolling) but nothing else, so I’m hopeful on that front.

There have been some nice-sounding refinements to Exposé (allowing access to multiple windows in an application, including minimized windows) as well as making the (in my view, largely redundant) “Services” menu option more context-sensitive. They’ve also done some work on Preview, which was getting a bit tired.

The ability to connect iCalendar and Address Book up to an Exchange server would be useful at work, but only after they upgrade our server to Exchange 2007!

I’ll be interested to see if the use of 64-bit code makes for a speed improvement on my MacBook Core 2 Duo, but my guess is that these improvements are harder for the individual user to experience for sure, unless they are dramatic. For me, however, syncing up to Google Contacts will be worth the 25 quid upgrade alone.

I’ll report more once I get it – but I’m not going to be one of those queuing outside an Apple Store on Friday.

The Bible in One Hour: Talks 1 – 5 are now available.

Simon Taylor (partner in crime at virtualtheology.net and elsewhere) is drawing his summer series, The Bible in One Hour, to a close next week with a final talk on the Book of Revelation. However, five of the six talks are now available on the website for downloading on virtualtheology.net together with the associated handouts. They include the talks on Amos, Mark’s Gospel and 1 Corinthians. Nice work Simon!