As a writer, people often say to me, ‘Hey Alan, I’ve got a great idea for a book.’ I’m sorry to say that, most of the time they don’t :(

However, a couple of years ago, my friend Carrie Kingston broke that trend when she told me about a book she wanted to write. I told a commissioning editor I knew who agreed that the project would result in a great and much-needed book. And now everyone else can read it.

I may get around to reviewing Children in the Way? at some point, but don’t wait for me. If you work with children, get a hold of a copy, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

In the mean time, here is some blurb to whet your appetite:

How do we create a church environment that takes proper account of the way children learn? . . . Our grasp of how children learn has developed sharply in recent years. Nurseries and schools constantly review their approach, but churches sometimes employ inadequate practices . . . Carrie Kingston and Isobel MacDougall draw on their immense experience to help churches ensure that children’s encounters with church are positive and enriching.

Last year I was asked to contribute the lead essay for the book, Developing Ears to Hear. To quote the cover blurb, ‘This is a book about listening. It is about active, engaged listening which discovers,in the process, redemptive moments which can bring healing, hope, and a renewed sense of direction and purpose in relationships. The authors are all practiced in listening, whether it be listening in worship, listening to those we are discipling, or really listening to the Word of God through the practice of lectio divina. This collection of essays is a prescription for a new period of health and vitality for the church.’

My own essay was titled, Why Listen?: Considering Contemporary Culture, Christianity and the value of Listening. To give a flavour here is the concluding paragraph:

I would want to argue that, it is both appropriate and challenging to suggest that, like post-Exodus Israel, the people of this world need to live with the knowledge that when they cry out the Church of Christ hears their cries and is both willing and able to respond. As Lucy Winkett wishes to say, listening to individuals and communities around us, ‘reveals a variety of involuntary, visceral lamenting sounds in reaction to forces of destruction.’1 Therefore, wherever real needs exist, the church has a God-given, Christ-inspired mandate to listen and so be engaged: Asylum, poverty, people-trafficking, housing, education, employment, healthcare, youth issues, crime, marriage, community development, the environment, urban regeneration, international relief, trade justice, globalisation, human rights, taxation, addiction, discrimination, care for the elderly, foreign policy, and metal health, and so the list goes on. ‘All listening begins and ends in God. The God who listens in infinite compassion is the God who creates in each of us the desire to listen to him, to his world, to each other, to ourselves so that, filled with his Spirit, we might continue his work here on earth.’2

1 Lucy Winkett, Sound, 48.
2Anne Long, Listening, 179.

THANK YOU.

I’m heading off to Greenbelt again this year to hook up with friends old and new and to do a little contributing in the Abide venue on Friday night (9.00pm). Below is the blurb I sent Greenbelt . . .

ALLOTMENT ATONEMENT

Reflective voices weave together the transforming nature of the atonement with the socially inclusive, politically challenging and environmentally and economically transforming process that is working the land. Many tend to think of turning a piece of land over to growing as an escape from the world: a tranquil oasis and a retreat from the chaos and challenges of life. In reality, there is a long history of seeing land given over to growing, as something much more radical. The hope is to enliven people’s imaginations to the possibility that having an allotment, turning your garden over to food production, or even redeeming a local wasteland, is more than just good for the soul – it can be an act of holistic transformation in line with Jesus’ pragmatic vision of the Kingdom of God and a fuller understanding of the atonement.

I read with interest the recent news that the coalition government intend to measure our happiness and discover the GWB (General Wellbeing) of the UK (Read here: BBC Website and here BBC: Website). Of course, this isn’t a new idea for David Cameron (read here: BBC Website). The only difference is that now he is in power he can have a go at implementing some policies to see if it’s possible to gauge the happiness of the country.

A couple of years ago, I brought out a book looking at the Fruit of the Spirit and how they relate to our contemporary context (A Permanent Becoming). In the chapter on Joy, I suggested the postmodern pursuit of happiness and the Christian idea of joy actually have far more in common than we often realise. At the end of the chapter, I mused on the idea that churches should be seen as happiness hubs within our communities given that so much of the research on what makes people truly happy can be found in a Christian theology of Trinity, personhood, creation and eschatology. Here’s some of what I wrote:

Happiness Hubs

One of the Psalmists says this: Your people are wonderful and they make me happy.i

Is church the first place you go to look for happiness?

Lots of people I know think Christians are joyless, when in reality, we should be leaders in the pursuit of happiness. We need big advertising hoardings outside our churches saying ‘Happiness is Here!’

But that means the church has to walk the road that leads to happiness. We need to become living signposts for people to follow towards the Good Life. The elements that produce happiness should be at the centre of our Christian Communities.

People are genuinely looking for a happiness that lasts. So let’s tell them that they can find it with God, through God’s Spirit, within the Christian community, and not play games by pretending that happiness is a worldly pursuit, while we have something altogether better, called joy.

The pursuit of happiness is a legitimate biblical, theological and sociological objective.

Read the rest of this entry »

This morning on BBC Radio 4, I listened to one of the most moving, fascinating, inspiring, challenging, life-affirming stories about faith that I think I have ever heard. So moving it has made me break my online silence to share it with you!

The programme told the story of Identical twins, Elizabeth and Caroline, who came from a home where religion was never discussed, but who both came to strong faith commitments – and that’s why the story was so fascinating, for Elizabeth embraced Islam, while Caroline became a Christian. They discuss candidly and movingly about how this has changed their relationship as twin sisters. If that wasn’t enough, it is set against the backdrop of their mother, who shares neither faith, and is dying from terminal lung cancer.

Listen here: Two Sisters, Two Faiths

NB: Get yourself a box of tissues – you will need them unless you have a heart of stone.

I read with interest in today’s Independent on Sunday that tomorrow the UK Government intends to set out its plans to meet the UN’s food production targets for 2050.

It would appear that as well as intensification of farming, locally producedfood will be at the heart of this drive. If this is true, then it has to be welcomed as decentralisation of food production, as well as most other things, such as power, has to be the way forward for a sustainable future.

For those of you who think feeding the population from gardens, allotments and windowboxes can’t be done, then you need to check out what went on in Cuba over at the Power of Community Website.

For those who fear the intensification model of farming, which stripps hedge rows and relies on pesticides and a high carbon footprint, then you need to watch this inspiring film – A Farm for the Future – and take on board the fact that if we are prepared to change our diets a little, then permaculture can give far greater yields per acre than so called intensive farming, producing a diverse range of crops within the same area rather than just a single crop, and maintain an ecological balance that positively encourages wildlife to thrive.

For those who want a say in the Future of our Food, then defra has just launched an online discussion document – FOOD 2030 – to invite your comments about the future of food and what our food system might look like in 2030.

And for those wishing to get off your backside and actually do something about the future of food, then check out EarthAbbey and be inspired to change your life from the roots up!

The Five Acts of Harry Patch
‘The Last Fighting Tommy’
by Andrew Motion

I.

A curve is a straight line caught bending
and this one runs under the kitchen window
where the bright eyes of your mum and dad
might flash any minute and find you down
on all fours, stomach hard to the ground,
slinking along a furrow between the potatoes
and dead set on a prospect of rich pickings,
the good apple trees and plum trees and pears,
Read the rest of this entry »

Following on from the post below - Not Thinking, Just Critical – it’s worth taking a view of the recent edition of Big Questions on BBC iplayer, which had a good discussion as to whether atheism is an intolerant belief.

You need to scoot along to about 40 mins into the programme, where you will find my good friend and director of the think tank THEOS, Paul Woolley holding his own against various contributors, including one from Camp Quest.

If you don’t know the work THEOS does, then do take a look as for me they are doing a fantastic job representing an informed, thoughtful and engaged Christianity in the public domain.

Given that I live in the West country, and that I have a (totally irrational, intuitive, experiential but it works for me, critically engaged, don’t buy into everything I’ve been told, non-fundamental, earthed) belief in the existence of a god, I’ve enjoyed listening to and reading about all the commotion caused by Camp Questthe UK’s first residential summer camp for the children of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view – (spot the value judgement in that sentence).

In many ways, I’ve got a lot of time and sympathy for what they are doing. Speaking from a Christian theistic point of view, we could do with a lot more critical thinking within the Christian community – even free thinking. And I guess that’s where the aspirations and agendas of Camp Quest begin to break down for me. For even though they claim that ‘The camp . . . seeks to promote tolerance through the understanding that there are many ideas in the world . . . [and that] There is no ‘atheist dogma’ or agenda, but an atmosphere of inquiry is created and the campers are encouraged to discuss ideas of interest to them,’ one can’t help sense that in reality they simply cannot tolerate the idea of a religious worldview, and that belief is incompatible with notions of critical and free-thinking.

While they claim openness to all ideas and worldviews, the website is full of explicit and implied statements that suggest belief in any god is to be pitied as a substandard epistemological worldview. Indeed, they even appear happy to let one of their camp counsellors, burdened with the name Christian, to have a testimony that reads: ‘He grew up as a Catholic but has been sceptical of the whole “sky-daddy” thing for as long as he could think (literally) and shed all remaining superstitions and belief in the supernatural after reading “The God Delusion”.’ Is that supposed to make me feel anymore comfortable sending my child to Camp Quest, which lets remember, has  ‘no atheist dogma‘, than sending her to Christian camp where Johnny believes ‘the world is 4000 years old and that Dawkins is the anti-Christ’?

Such statements do not suggest critical thinking, they are just critical, playing with tired and well-worn characterisation that simply seek to demean people of faith with a sense of intolerant superiority based on misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how belief systems work for the vast majority.

Which is kind of ironic given that on the homepage there is concern that. ‘A recent series of articles in the Sunday Times (printed 28/6/2009) has caused significant media interest and unfortunately the dissemination of incorrect information.’

Responding to one headline:“Dawkins sets up kids’ camp to groom atheists” Those organising the camp would like to make it known that, ‘Richard Dawkins is not setting up Camp Quest UK. The word “groom” is misleading, offensive and inaccurate.

Of course, Dawkins would never suggest that those of a religious bent would be found ‘grooming’ children, or stoop so low as to cause offence, mislead people about religion, or say anything inaccurate about Christianity – but he might write this: ‘we should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them . . . Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds.’

The organisers of Camp Quest are right to be frustrated and annoyed about being misrepresented – Welcome to the world of your own making!

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