Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good endings - Chapter Year 1 draws to a close

We had our final Chapter meal of the first annual cycle last night.

That effectively brings to an end the first year of our Chapter - whose life cycle runs from easter to easter - though we will include some prayers in the Service of Vows on Holy Saturday to mark it more formally.

It felt like a good ending - there was much laughter and merriment - due at least in part to a large bottle of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (one of my favourite Italian tipples) that the Morgans had just brought back from Italy.

We spent some time writing down the things we appreciated about each other and also the areas we hope to see each other grow in. We then said Compline together.

At the end they gave me a beautiful carved wooden St Francis cross (see photo) brought back from Assisi which is now hanging on the wall above my desk at home, and an icon of the last supper - it was our last supper together after all.

The new 'Chapter in waiting' has just been on retreat together and will make their vows on Holy Saturday in Dorchester Abbey.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Only the Local is Universal" - James Attlee at QI

Really enjoyed hearing James Attlee at the QI building (see pic) in Oxford last night along with a few other hOMEies.

Attlee is the author of the book 'Isolarion' which is about the Cowley Road here in Oxford (I mentioned it yesterday).

It was fascinating to hear him talk so much about spirituality (for instance the idea of pilgrimage which he talked about at length) and then to claim that, although he has a religious background in terms of his upbringing, he now has no religious belief and that "all the overarching belief systems have failed". I guess it's a story that we're getting very used to hearing by now - religion bad/spirituality good.

And in a sense he's right - they have all failed, certainly in their current form. Christendom is crumbling around our ears and many inside the church don't think that's a bad thing. But I guess many of us would want to avoid throwing the (holy) baby out with the bathwater. Out of the ashes of Christendom comes new communities of Christian practice.

Attlee also talked about the 'fragments of global cultures that have washed up on the Cowley Road', his fight to prevent the local council from tidying the place up and prettifying it in a bland way ("why can't we just walk round the empty fruit cartons on the pavement? why are we all so obsessed with walking in straight lines in the city?"!!), and the importance of simply walking around (which I felt really challenged to make part of my practice).

But the moment I enjoyed most was when he was talking with passion about the annual Cowley Road Carnival (this year happening on Sunday 1st July). He talked about what a difference having no cars around made, but most tellingly he talked about the effect that the Carnival has on the local consciousness - it leaves a trace and opens up possibilities. It enables you to imagine the city differently.

Sound familiar?! I think it's a great image of the task of local Christian community.

new blog - The hOME Cafe

I mentioned yesterday that we are looking into the possibility of opening a cafe/arts space/spirituality centre on the Cowley Road.

For people who want to track the development of this project more closely I've started a separate blog - The hOME Cafe (what it's called for now) - here.
I'm sure if there are any big developments I will blog about them here too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

mission focus : geographic or demographic?

We have been talking quite a lot about mission around these parts recently.

For quite a long time I think it would be true to say that we have conceived of our mission in demographic rather than geographic terms i.e. we are trying to focus on a people group (the postmoderns for want of a better word) rather than a particular geographical area.

I sense that is beginning to change for us.

We are hearing God's call to become a sign and symbol of the kingdom of God (and to seek the kingdom of God) in a more geographically focused way. That for us means the Cowley Road area of Oxford (see photo above).

I said to someone the other day that we want to see people who live, work and play in the Cowley Road area come to faith.

At the moment - although we gather there (in the local community centre) on Sunday nights for worship, no one locally would really know we were there. Our presence is very light - we kind of parachute in and then out again.

So - we are investigating the possibility of opening a cafe on the Cowley Road which will give us a greater ability to be present to those who live, work and play there. I will blog about this separately as things develop. We have an important meeting tomorrow about it.

On another - related note - a fascinating book has recently come out: 'Isolarion' by James Attlee is his pilgrimage (his word) or travelogue up the Cowley Road. It's had some great reviews and some of us in hOME have started reading it.
He is speaking about it tonight in Oxford at the QI building (it would have seemed more appropriate for him to speak about it somewhere on the Cowley Road but there you are!). It's free and it's at 7.30pm if you're local and you fancy it.

planning ahead - can you help?!

We're about to book our Greenbelt tickets while they're still cheaper (before end of March). Chas and Dave are playing - it'd be crazy not to go!
Anyway, it's going to be an interesting experience this year - what with having Lily-Anna with us for the first time.
Ideally what we'd love is for someone to loan us a camper van.
It's a big ask but if there's anyone out there who reads this blog, has a Camper van, isn't going to Greenbelt themselves or anywhere else on the August bank holiday weekend, and would be prepared to loan theirs to us (phew! that's a long list of qualifications!).....then we'd love to hear from you!!

Monday, March 26, 2007

"I'm a Christ-follower, and I'm a Christian" (PC/Mac parody alert)

O lordy! Here is a take on the "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" adverts from Apple but this time it's "I'm a Christ-follower, and I'm a Christian" from I've embedded this one (there are 4) cos it was the only one which I thought had a good line in it ("think I got a loose fire-wire"). The other three are here, here and here. What's great is that it really emphasises the really important things - like how being a Christ-follower means that you can wear jeans to church (unlike boring normal Christians). Cool!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Chapter Retreat

8 of us are off toBurford Priory today for a weekend's retreat in preparation for the second hOME Service of Vows on Holy Saturday, Easter weekend. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

another chance to see a great film

just discovered that they're putting on an additional screening of 'Into Great Silence' at the Phoenix in Oxford this coming Sunday at 12.30pm. regular readers will know I was blown away by this film and highly recommend you seeing it if you live in the Oxford area. You can book online here.

Good Friday - hOME Stations of the Cross

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mother's Day

So last Sunday in the UK was Mother's Day - or Mothering Sunday to give it it's proper title. It was a special day for us as it was obviously Pippa's first Mother's Day and our incredibly talented 10 week old daughter somehow managed to make sure Pip got a bunch of flowers and a card.

Anyway, I led the intercessions in church on Sunday night and I enjoyed preparing them. We had 4 prayer stations:

1. giving thanks and praying for our mothers. object: a glass of milk to sip from.
2. praying for women who had lost children. object: a flower with a separated petal.
3. praying for children who had lost mothers. particularly for aids orphans. object: a solitary teddy bear.
4. praying for those who have experienced the pain of childlessness. object: a pregnancy test.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

didn't see that one coming..

All too predictably Spurs (my team) crashed out of the FA Cup last night to Chelsea, losing 2-1.
But I think we lost it when we took Berbatov off and conceded a second goal in the first game. It was all over from then on I thought....
I even hoped Robbie Keane didn't score the penalty as I thought it was just delaying the inevitable - we never looked likely last night.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Prodigal Son - but what about when the memory has gone?

Yesterday's lectionary gospel was Luke 15 - the parable of the Prodigal Son.
This story works out on a number of levels - Israel's return from exile etc.
But one of the most fascinating points to come out of our community discussion last night was how pivotal the role of memory was in the story.
It was when the son, who was living in a far off land, remembered the goodness of his Father that he decided to come home.
Now if we're talking about Israel's return from exile - then no problem. The memory was kept alive in the continuous retelling of the story.

But when we use this story to speak of people coming home to God - and I think it's appropriate for us to employ the story in this way - then how does it work if there is no memory of being at home with God in the first place to draw upon?

This is a very important story for us - our little community is called 'home' because that sense of home-coming, which is portrayed so beautifully in this story, is what we're all about. We want to embody God's call to come home. This is what mission is all about for us.

In what sense do the people around us have that memory of being at home with God? Is it like a primeval thing? You know - collectively as a human race we have a deep rooted sense of our homeland even if we don't have that memory on an individual conscious level?

Is that the best way to understand it?

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Spirit is the Front Man now

I'm probably being a bit theologically slow off the mark here but it occurred to me this morning that as we look back over human history - or at least to the point of early Jewish history in the Old Testament - that we have seen three 'epochs' which largely correspond to the three members of the Trinity:

The era of the Father - the prime mover and character in the foreground in the Old Testament
The era of the Son - through the incarnation in Jesus Christ
The era of the Spirit - after the ascension of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the Spirit poured out.

Of course - it's not a science! Because we are talking about interdependent, perichoretic Trinity here then there is beautiful interplay throughout the three eras (e.g. the Father and the Spirit were obviously involved in the incarnation of the Son, and in this present era the Spirit points towards the Son and the Father) but it's like there is a different 'front-man' at each point.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Spring is the new Summer!

We've had absolutely beautiful weather for about the last 10 days in a row now - warm and sunny. Kinda like the summer used to be in England!

Into Great Silence

The waiting was over and I finally got to see this film last night.

It was stunning.
There were people for whom it was a bit soporific (quite a few tired eyes and heavy eyelids) but I was totally gripped throughout.

There was an amazing amount of energy for a two and half hour film with no soundtrack, no narration and very little speaking.

A number of things came through for me:

- the spirituality of small things. The most mundane of tasks being done with love, care and attentiveness. This really does transform the mundanity of life into an exercise in spirituality and worship.

- the importance of rhythm.

- the freedom that is to be found within limitations. We've really got to get hold of this one and it applies on many levels e.g. liturgy. Sometimes we think things limit us but they actually enable us to be truly free.

The cinematography was exquisite. It was kinda like going to the Tate and watching a video installation. It could just as easily have been screened in a gallery as in a cinema.

And it was really interesting that so many people came out on a Tuesday evening (the cinema was three quarters full) to see a film like this.

My fellow nu-monastic abbot Ian from mayBe has blogged about it here.

If you get the chance to see this film take it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

what does it mean to be a witness? (or - it's not enough to just not be weird)

As readers of this blog will know - I have been thinking a lot about evangelism recently.
I was thinking about it again last night when I was out for a drink with the guys from our ante-natal class.
I wonder whether to a certain extent we have defaulted to a kind of negative definition of what it means to be a witness.

i.e. we think it's enough to not be weird.

We know that everyone thinks that Christians are boring and weird. We imagine people discovering that we are Christians and then saying something like - "You can't be a Christian - you're not weird, you're normal". And that has become how we imagine ourselves to be a witness.

But it's not really enough is it? It's a kind of inversion - communicating what we're not (weird) instead of what we are (fill in blanks yourself).

How are our lives really different from those people around us (apart from stuff in our heads about what we believe)? In other words, what positive statements can we make to point people towards the life of God lived out?

Poor Conversationalist

I have been very poor at responding to people's comments on my blog. It's bad form. So I want to try harder to respond, even if it's only to say a thankyou to those who have taken the time and trouble to post a comment.
Apologies for my poor conversation skills and be assured that I really appreciate your comments.

Monday, March 12, 2007

from the sublime to the possibly ridiculous

Following my last post on the theology of mission it seems only appropriate to follow it up with this post about some trainers with wheels in them.

I heard about these - 'Heeleys' to give them their proper title - via Bob Hyatt in Portland whose blog I lurk on. He's got a great YouTube video showing people using them.

They look like too much fun - especially for grown up kids like me (who said you have to stop playing when you grow up?!) - so I think I might need to ask for some for my birthday next month. They are available in the UK here.

why are we so bad at evangelism (or - time to get cookin')

Yesterday morning, fellow hOMEie Jim and myself did a team-preach/discussion facilitation at St Clement's Parish Church - the Parish that most of hOME's activity takes place within (so we are there with their kind permission etc.)

The Lectionary gospel passage for the day was Luke 13: 1-9 which is a strange passage in many ways. We decided to focus on the second part in which Jesus tells a story about a tree that has been planted but has borne no fruit for three years. It was a challenging passage for us as we have been going about three and a half years now, so the passage begged a difficult question for us i.e. what does it mean to be fruitful, and have we been?

The New Testament describes fruitfulness in different ways (fruit of the Spirit etc.) but there's also no getting away from the fact that it also envisages fruitfulness to mean the growth of the Christian community. We might want to term that evangelism.

Evangelism has got a lot of bad press in recent years, a lot of which has been justifiable. And I have spoken many times about the need to see evangelism as an aspect of mission (which is rightly understood to be God's activity in the world to restore the whole of his creation).

But what about this pesky evangelism business. Why are we who are exploring new forms of church seemingly so poor at seeing people come to faith (this seems to be quite a common experience in emerging communities).

In the passage - Jesus talks about the manure that the gardener wants to put around the tree to encourage it to be fruitful. What might that compost/manure be?

We suggested it could be many things (and there were some fantastic contributions from the congregation to the discussion at this point) but some fresh thinking might be part of it.

Then we developed a germ of idea that was suggested in Pete Rollins' book - How (Not) to Speak of God.

Much evangelism to date could be characterised as being akin to going up to people in the street with a plate of food and trying to convince them (a) that they are hungry (they mostly don't think they are) and (b) they should take some of our food. We then develop ever more elaborate ways of trying to get them to take the food or convince them that it makes rational sense to take the food.

Pete suggests a different approach. What if we understood ourselves to be the 'aroma of Christ'. I guess we've all had the experience of walking down the street and catching a whiff of some fantastic food, which instantly makes us feel hungry. Could this be a more helpful way of understanding the task of evangelism?

What would we need to see this happen. We suggested 7 things:

1. chefs i.e. people of faith
2. a kitchen i.e. a context for the chefs to be together - church
3. ingredients i.e. good smelling stuff - mercy, compassion, reconciliation, justice, forgiveness
4. a cooker i.e. the life of the Spirit in us and between us/around us
5. some open windows i.e. to let the good smells out - relationships, honesty etc.
6. proximity i.e. to be cooking near to where people might be
7. a spirit of inclusion i.e. the ability and willingness to offer people a seat at the table once they take the initiative and get in touch with their own hunger.

Traditionally we have jumped straight to point 7 without thinking about how we can help people to figure out for themselves that they are hungry.

Anyway - thought there might be somebody out there who might be interested in this!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

the joy of new music

One of the best things in life as far as I'm concerned is the discovery of new music. Sometimes I like to just pick something up something I've never heard before up at random in my quest for continual musical refreshment. There are two or three facilities that make this easier - especially for those of us without lots of cash:

1. Fopp Records - a great independent chain of small stores which operate a 'suck it and see' policy. They are quite happy for you to buy a CD and take it back for an exchange or refund if you don't like it.

2. The public library - ours here in Oxford has a great selection of CD's and they are normally £1 for one week. Of course there is a moral dilemma involved here: if you've borrowed an album and loaded it on to your iPod to listen to, and you decide you really like it, are you disciplined enough to go out and buy the CD. Or alternatively, delete it from iTunes?

3. iTunes - I love their 30 second previews, and it's a good way to get a sense of the kind of thing a new artist does, but there's no beating taking in a whole album to get a proper sense of the music.

My discovery this week is Matisyahu (see pic above) - a Jewish reggae artist. Loving it. It's so refreshing to hear a different cultural voice - I don't think I've listened to any Jewish music before. This album came out last year and it's fascinating to listen to him rap about the Temple and Jerusalem etc. His site is here and you can listen to tracks on it. Anyone else discovered any great new music they want to share with us?

Monday, March 05, 2007

more on processing stuff in community

I blogged a few days ago on whether we should be more accepting of some people's desire to gain some space away from community to process their stuff - and whether or not people are just wired in different ways: some to work through things in community and some needing to take a step back.
With that in mind it was interesting to read some of Mark Scandrette's thoughts today:

I’ve also noticed the important role community plays in personal health. Often when someone is not doing well mentally, emotionally, spiritually or relationally, they withdraw from the relationships that could give them the most encouragement and accountability. I think you would find, for instance, that long before a couple divorces, they often divorce themselves from the communities that could provide the best support. I’ve wondered if we should more agressively pursue those who withdraw from relationships– since withdrawal is so often a sign of unhealth– even when maintaining such relationships requires conflict.

Read the whole of Mark's post here.

I still don't think I've nailed this one. My natural inclination is to say that, from a point of trinitarian theology, relationships are intrinsic to what it means to be fully human, and to say that sometimes people need to isolate themselves in order to work through difficult times just doesn't ring true. But at the same time we can't force people to open up and share in the context of community. Maybe, Emma and Trefor are right in their comments on my original post - it kinda all depends on what you mean by being in community. Some people can still be connected to and held by the community in some way even if they are not actively opening up and sharing their stuff in that context. But what about when people just 'disappear' for a while?

We Will Not Be Silenced

fantastic video here from a guy who calls himself DJ Paul Edge - amazing combination of visuals and text. Stick with it cos it takes a little while to get going (and the music is pretty forgettable).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama

Ok - some of you will be way ahead of me on this one - but this week I got hold of a fantastic record by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama - 'There will be a light'. Fantastic stuff - great mixture of gospel, country, bluegrass.

Community - where you process your stuff???

As Abbot of our little community I always find it a little sad when people who are going through a tough time withdraw from community to deal with their stuff until they feel they are in a better place and can come back.
I've always thought this was an unhealthy way of doing things, but then in a conversation with one of our Chapter members yesterday the possibility emerged that perhaps some people are just wired that way, and that that's ok. i.e. some people work through tough stuff with others and others prefer to go out into the desert on their own and work it out.
This has confused me a little. what do any of my readers think? Should we be encouraging people not to retreat from community during tough times, or should we be recognising that some people do things that way and be reassuring them that we are here and waiting for them when they are ready to come back?
Your thoughts are appreciated!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mobile blogging

So - I'm trying out the mobile blogging feature of the new Blogger Beta system from my BlackBerry. If you can read this it's working!

I'm sitting in the biography section of Blackwells bookshop in Oxford - by far and away the best bookshop in town. If you're wondering why I'm in the biography section it's cos it has some comfy armchairs and I needed somewhere to sit for a while in between meetings.

Anyway, I can't help but notice that some very unlikely people have biographies out. I mean, who in the world wants to read a biography of the following:

Damien Duff
Billie Piper (ok - Jim might want to read this!)
Kerry Katona
Chris Moyles
Neil Lennon
Gordon Ramsay

I mean - how many people are that interested in these people to want to read a whole hard backed book about them?!!

Seems like anyone can write a biography these days. Mind you I guess it's not a million miles away from the self publishing phenomena that is blogging.

Matt Rees
- slowly learning to be with God and each other for the sake of the world

(m) 07811 149305