TSK – bye bye blogosphere and thanks for all the fish

Well, sort of. What do you know, after eight years the original Emerging Church blogger, Andrew Jones, is taking a break from blogging for a while. His highly mobile current circumstances suggest this might be a good idea (hey, the man has to have some fun without being tied down to his blog!). But it is also significant because, coming in the year after the Emergent Village changes, this is one further indication of the shift in the missional conversation which has been going on over the past 18 months.

For me, I think change is usually an exciting thing. Human empires fall, but the work of God remains. It just seems at the moment, we’re in one of those points when we need to turn the lens (or is it, shift our heads, or blurr our eyes) to see what it is all about at the moment. And if this means more doing because there’s less commentating, then that’s not such a bad thing.

In the meantime, expect some summary posts on his blog in the coming days or weeks.

I wonder if email lists are due for a comeback?

Christine Sine is blogging about gardens

Back in the 1990s, in the early days of the Third Sunday Service, we did a service on the theme of gardens. Obviously there are gardens in the Bible, but what’s perhaps of more interest is the relationship between the gardener and the creation. Gardening is an activity of working with, and against, nature. Gardens are articial spaces, in that they seek to control the natural forces of chaos in nature which would otherwise have their sway. At one level, there is nothing wrong with nature space at all. However, gardening offers human beings the chance to selective work with-and-against nature to create various desired effects. In some ways, it parallels the relationship which God has with creation: in Genesis 1 we see the Spirit of God brooding over the waters of chaos, and from gardening we get the insight that creation isn’t (unlike other parallel near-Eastern myths) a crushing of chaos, but a shaping of it. Creation happens when God becomes enmeshed in chaos for his own, creative, purposes.  So it was good to see the Christine Sine has been theologising and spiritualising about gardens.  You can catch this on the Emergent Village website and her own website.

Church water bills

There has been quite a furore about a change in water-drainage charging which affects churches, other faith communities, community halls and the like in the UK. In some areas, churches and community-halls have faced increases in charges amounting to 1300%. The recent General Synod of the Church of England also debated the issue, passing the following motion unanimously (which I think is a first in my experience):

‘That this Synod, concerned about the effect on many parishes of sudden,massive rises in water charges for churches, request HM Government to remind OFWAT of its obligations to ensure that the water companies adhere to the clear guidance given by the Secretary of State for the Environment in 2000, which states that “there are many non-household users who are not businesses … including places of worship … and it would be inappropriate to charge all non-household customers as if they were businesses”.’

I signed the e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website some time ago. Today we received the government’s response to the issue which is moderately encouraging, indicating something of a stop-gap position and some pressure being exerted on those water companies who are acting in a fairly merciless manner. They (and Ofwat) are taking a dim view of the proceedings.  You can read the government’s response here.

Office-speak

The BBC today is running a great magazine article on the most loathed office-speak phrases. The interesting question is why such verbal nonsense emerges in the first place. The consensus seems to be that it comes from minds which are operating almost exclusively within a work environment which is demanding (or even threatening) but also which is intellectually unchallenging and infertile. The world of the middle-manager is betwixt and between: it is pressurized, but ultimately not to do with life-and-death issues (as is, say, the world of medicine). It is routine, dealing with things which are ultimately banal, but where strong demands are placed on the manager which don’t bear on those lower down the pecking-order of the workplace. It is far removed from the innovative, intellectually challenging and creative environment of the research scientist or the focussed thinking of the academy.

The middle-manager, in order not to go insane, has to invent a kind of linguistic universe where the excitement of other worlds inhabits his or her own. This results in the large-scale importing of metaphors from other contexts which then are over-used, largely because they make the banality seem somehow more imaginative and glamorous. The world of office-speak is, therefore, a game of the imagination which prevents the middle-manager from going crazy with the cumulative effect of pressure and boredom: it’s a survival mechanism buried deep within their brains to prevent them from becoming cleaver-wielding lunatics. For them, the alternative is horrendous. Put yourself in their shoes (you may indeed be in those shoes): you are handed a set of figures which have emerged from a spreadsheet. They indicate an arithmetic difference between profits achieved in the year to date and the profits which should have been achieved in the year to date. This is the result of a simple subtraction, but the implications are that if that difference isn’t closed, either the expectations of shareholders will not be fulfilled, or some people are going to lose their jobs, or someone higher-up the the hierarchy is going to have their over-optimistic assessment of the profitability of the company significantly undermined by facts.

The middle-manager is then placed under pressure. What can he or she do to survive? You can’t simply wave the two figures at the team and tell everyone that they’ve got to work harder to close the gap. The banality and boredom of the situation conspires with the facts to produce demoralisation and further loss of performance. Enter the imaginative metaphor! The middle-manager remembers the phrase from a recent seminar they attended: we’ve got to ‘up our game’ he or she says. Suddenly, the dreary office disappears in the corporate cranium, and everyone is dressed in American Football kit – the crowds are in the stadium all around and just down the field are the ugly-faced opposition. The middle-manager is suddenly transformed into Bull Durham and the adrenaline starts to pump. Imagination turns that little subtraction sum from the spreadsheet into a drama. [Oops, wrong game! see Paul Davison’s comment below!]

The last thing everyone needs is some linguistic pedant who punctures the metaphor with reality. The problem is that the work environment remains as dull as it ever was, which deadens the ability of the middle-manager to dream up endless imaginative metaphors. Eventually, the metaphors become routine, then they replicate and replicate until they take over the entire linguistic field. Eventually, nobody can understand what anyone else is saying because of this verbal fecundity. The whole office is drunk on metaphoric euphoria – until everyone is living in a parallel universe of disconnected imaginative images which have some vague connection to what they’re supposed to be doing. The whole office is on linguistic LSD, just about keeping things going in the real world, but in fact, off somewhere with the fairies.

The problem for English is that so much routine, boring commercial work is conducted in this language that there is a real danger that what started as an attempt at psychological survival has now attained the capacity to alter the language to the extent that it could become a meaningless stream of verbal dope. English could become the ultimate language of meaninglessness.

What is more worrying for me is that most of this is being reflected in church circles as well. The rich theological concept of ‘mission’ was, long ago, imported into management contexts, semi-digested by the behemoth of middle-management culture, then re-ingested by Christian leaders. These leaders have an impoverished view of mission which sees it purely in terms of the statistically quantifiable, where the spreadsheet is Lord. This theologically-starved view of mission debases Christian leadership from the truly apostolic into the managerial. As a result, we start to hear Christian leaders using management cliches, rather than biblical metaphors. So when you next hear your priest, pastor or minister talk about the Church needing to ‘up its game’, you know he or she has finally lost the theological plot. The answer is a sabbatical on a desert island with just the Bible to read. They may come back speaking in tongues, but they might also come back speaking plainly in English. For the mission of God takes place in the real world, not a fantasy one. And true mission involves true words, which call things what they are, and trustworthy language which opens people’s eyes to see what is really in front of them: that which the original Word brought forth and became flesh in order to redeem.

Google cockupiaith

The County of Monmouthshire is well known to be confused as to its national identity. From the Norman Conquest until the 16th century it was part of the Welsh Marches – a kind of geographical no-mans-land, under local feudal barons (the Marcher Lords). After 1542, it was created as a distinct county and added to the rest of Wales by Henry VIII. Nevertheless, it retained a very English identity – especially those parts of the county lying to the east of the River Usk.

The accent of the county varies hugely, from a definite South Wales (and therefore, Welsh) accent, to a very peculiar tongue as you approach the English border. The place-names are also heavily Anglicised, both in spelling and pronunciation, from Welsh originals. “Wenglish”, a curious mix of English and Welsh, is also not unknown. (It’s a kind of equivalent to “Franglais”, the language many Brits speak when in holiday over the English Channel – or if you’re French, La Manche).

Those of us who remember when all the Welsh county names (and boundaries) were changed in 1974 and then changed back again in 1996 can well understand that residents of Monmouthshire would get confused, after they had spent 22 years in Gwent, which was once also the name of the ancient Kingdom of Gwent which covered this part of Wales between the 6th and 11th centuries. People in East Monmouthshire are just plain confused as to which country and county they are in.

However, to add to their troubles, you will find that if you look at this part of the world on Google Maps, the nice people at Google have tried to be culturally sensitive in the marking of the border between England and Wales. They’ve marked the English side of the border “England”. They’ve marked the Welsh side of the border in what they deem to be the local language, so it’s marked, “An Bhreatain Bheag”. This language is Gaelic: spoken in Ireland and Scotland. Not Wales. The local language spoken in Wales is called “Welsh”. So the residents of Monmouthshire now have to contend with the fact that their side of the county border with England is marked in Gaelic. So are they now English, Scottish, Irish, or (just perhaps) Welsh?

The Welsh for “Wales” is “Cymru”.

“An Bhreatain Bheag”, apparently, is Gaelic for “Little Britain”.

Are Google trying to tell the Welsh something here? Or is it just the influence of one particular character in the BBC comedy series?

Now that’s what I call a woman!

Conchita CintrónWhilst away on a residential course last weekend, I read this amazing obituary of Concita Cintrón. She was a champion bullfighter from Mexico who moved to Spain after World War II. Her life would make an amazing film, especially if they could persuade Penélope Cruz to play the lead. I think I nearly fell in love with her just reading the obituary – which is a rather scary thought. (And if you’re reading this, my love of 25 years, it’s the similarities between the two of you that have me by the heartstrings!)

Monk for a weekend

Monasteries in the UK are out on a serious bit of recruiting. And surely they’re absolutely right to do so. There are so many things in life drowning out God’s voice that those institutions dedicating their life together to listening for God have to tell others that they’re out there. It’s rather like you have to shout aloud to say “there is something other than this noise!”

The news story from the BBC website.

Regular readers of this blog will notice that once again Worth Abbey are in the vanguard of this. They are doing a great service to the Church’s work in this country.