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We wish you a merry Christmas

Banksy painting

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9.6-7 (NRSV)

Like most of us, I am putting the computer aside for a few days and so I thought I would sign off by wishing everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year (should they happen to stop by this web site).

It has been my tradition (albeit a fairly new and irregular one) to mark the major festivals on this website by drawing attention to a bit of graffiti. I don’t know how long this tradition will last (dependent as it is on interesting things that I can find) but for now it continues with this image that Banksy created this time last year.

It’s very easy to forget that there are plenty of places in the world where talk of a Prince of Peace sounds pretty empty. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has commented in recent days and Banksy captured eloquently in his painting last year, even in Israel and even in Bethlehem, there is little peace.

Yet that is our faith and our hope and it is why Christmas Day is the most amazing day. We celebrate the birth of God incarnate, the divine made flesh, the decisive action of God in human history to rescue and redeem us from the mess we continue to make of our world and our lives.

May you have a happy Christmas and a fantastic 2007 but I hope you will also join me in taking some time during the festivities to pray for peace.

You do not represent me

Covenant cartoon

For the last few years, my wife and I have attended the New Wine summer conferences. Ostensibly, at first, because our church decamped to Somerset for two weeks every Summer, we have become regulars in the team that corrals 500 ten and eleven year olds per week.

I’ve been impressed with New Wine generally speaking. I like their emphasis on the Spirit of God as well as the word of God and when I first attended they were a great example of people trying to be both Anglican and charismatic and evangelical (I appreciate not everyone there was Anglican but that is certainly its base).

I was at one of those Summer conferences when I first felt God might be calling me to the ministry and, indeed, I came to Ridley Hall in part because of Chris Cocksworth, our principal, who I’d known from the Liturgical Commission but also from seeing him at New Wine and looking after one of his sons for a week.

New Wine have an ordinands network and fairly recently I signed up. It maybe because of my familiarity with them, but of all the different groups in the CofE, they are a network with whom I feel a lot of affinity.

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Is the truth stranger than fiction

Episcopal punch-up

When I picked up the Guardian this morning (one of my Monday rituals because of the new media jobs section… old habits die hard), I was surprised to find an article covering the Bishop of Southwark’s black eye and the alleged way in which he may or may not have received said black eye. I had originally heard about Bishop Tom’s shiner via Ruth Gledhill’s blog but accusations of drunkenness were new to me.

It got me thinking and particularly because, also last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury attended our Ridley Advent service with his arm in a sling. His injuries were less well reported, in fact I’ve not been able to find very much coverage at all except this article.

Finally, also last week, the Living Church Foundation in the USA reported that several other bishops have been in the wars lately.

Surely, drunkenness, muggings, cysts and whatever else are all smokescreens for something far more straightforward. Our senior churchmen have had one almighty great punch-up! 🙂

In keeping with the spirit of my previous post encouraging excellence in blogging, I feel compelled to point out that I know I am making two plus two equal five and that this is utter rubbish and fluff. So shoot me… I just loved the thought of crosiers at dawn! Plus it gives me a chance to chuck a jedi picture on my blog and ultimately I am hoping Dave Walker does a suitable cartoon for the occasion.

Wine and wineskins

Wooden laptop

When I was still working for the National Church Institutions, I decided one day to get myself in with the digital Jones’ and set up a blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a few posts in when the kindly Dave Walker dropped me an email and suggested I might like to check out whether I was okay to be blogging and whether the NCI’s had any rules about staff blogging about church related matters.

The staff handbook was silent on the matter. So I cc’d an email to certain overseers who I thought might be best to ask. They responded by asking me ‘what’s a blog?’. So I explained blogging to them and then it all went silent for a week or two until an announcement was made via the internal weekly ‘All Staff’ web page. The announcement made it clear that any member of staff who blogged about their work or the Church would be considered to be in breach of contract in just the same way as if they had spoken without authorization to a member of the press. The announcement went on to say that there were some staff members who blogged as part of their job (like national youth officers and the like) which was fine, but if that wasn’t you… keep your grubby little fingers off your keyboards (I’m paraphrasing at this point of course).

I can understand why they came down as heavy as they did, but as term ends here at Ridley and the numbers of ordinands blogging here at Ridley and around the country in other colleges creeps up and up and up, I have been led to think about how institutions sometimes react to new things and how they might react to the rising numbers of bloggers in college life.

I guess there is always the danger that the powers-that-be decide to nip things in the bud and come down heavy on us bloggers. We do have a tendency to sound off a little (some of us more than others) and criticism can creep into our posts from time to time. Let’s face it – we have a fair list of ‘powers-that-be’ to choose from; any of whom could decide to make life difficult. Between the Ministry Division, our respective diocesan bishops and our colleges, we are not short of authority figures to rail against or under whom we might find ourselves being sat on.

For example, I can understand why a theological college that is under pressure each year to attract students from a limited intake of ordinands might want to put its best public foot forward and might not look kindly on any blog that is less than complimentary when potential students might be reading. However, I would suggest that sitting on such comment actually makes that institution look worse than it might look if it let it slide and allowed the student’s critique. I personally think that any organisation that cannot handle a bit of criticism looks very insecure. Surely, a mature organisation confident in its mission is not going to be waylaid by a few negative words?

As the philosopher Epictetus is rumoured to have said (and yes, I can’t believe that I just typed that phrase on my blog either):

“If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.”

Instead of worrying about potential negatives, I’d encourage the powers-that-be to recognise the positives. As one of my fellow bloggers and I discussed the other day; if nothing else, keeping such a journal helps us to sharpen up our reflective skills – something we are always being encouraged to do at college. It also encourages dialogue and conversation and from a potentially much wider audience with a far broader churchmanship than we might find in any non-digital environment. What great educational opportunities!

At the same time, I would say that all of us ordinand types who blog have a duty to be careful in what we say. If we are to critique, we had better make damn sure we have good reason and at the very least be tempering any negative comment by looking for the positive as well. Once it’s out here on the web, it’s beyond our control. Even if you delete it, it gets caught in Google caches and sites like archive.org and that, if nothing else, should give us pause.

What follows are a few golden rules that I humbly offer to both ordinand types and institutions feeling threatened for the good of all as we continue in this brave new world. If commenters want to add their own suggestions, please feel free – I’d love to hear them and will be glad to update this article as we go with your suggestions.

Golden rules for the ordinand

  1. If you say it’s a fact, make flippin’ sure that it is a fact.
  2. If you get it wrong, be big enough to correct your mistakes and acknowledge those mistakes publicly.
  3. But don’t delete a post; preserve the original and use notations to show where changes were made.
  4. If you are referencing something or someone else and the material exists online, link to it so that people can go read and make up their own mind.
  5. Be honest about your own biases and interests. If you have a vested interest, say so.
  6. Don’t disclose confidential information… ever. (It should go without saying for people training to be Ministers that we can keep a confidence).
  7. Don’t blog about issues and topics that, even if not confidential, could jeopardize personal and work relationships.
  8. ** update ** Might be wisest to keep family as a no-go area. It’s not fair on the family to hear stuff back about themselves from other people who’ve read the blog. (Same sort of issue as whether it’s okay to preach about family). ** end update **
  9. Keep a fair balance of positive and negative if you do find yourselves critiquing… try the situation in their shoes and see how it looks.
  10. If you really go for it and sound off in a big way, or if you are not in the best frame of mind that day, just save it as draft and sleep on it before you go ahead and publish.

Golden rules for the powers-that-be

  1. Encourage blogging and best practice in blogging amongst your students. It could really help them to reflect and discuss what they are learning in powerful new ways. In essence, blogging is an open dialogue and an exchange of ideas – what is more educational than that?
  2. Take time to understand the technology and the culture that goes with it. Engage! Consider harnessing such technology yourself to run official blogs that might even feed into and from the unofficial blogs of students.
  3. Take time to think about how priestly ministry could be enhanced by keeping a blog and encourage your ordinands to think on the same lines for the benefit of their future ministry.
  4. Participate! Get yourself an RSS reader and both read your ordinands’ blogs and, every now and then, comment and be part of the discussion.
  5. If you get a bit of criticism, maybe you’d look better to outsiders looking in and more mature by allowing the criticism rather than trying to eradicate it.
  6. If you get a bit of criticism, why not honestly consider whether it’s deserved and what you could do about it.
  7. Feel free to exercise discipline when it is needed… whether it be in regard to confidentiality, proprietary or third party information. You are still the powers-that-be!

*** update ***

Golden rules for blog readers

  1. Don’t believe all you read in the newspapers or in a blog. Reader beware.
  2. Read with a hermeneutic of suspicion! In other words, ask ‘Why has this blogger written this? Who benefits?’
  3. Receive the blog in the spirit that it is offered; an urge to amuse, a rant of frustration, a dollop of self-indulgence, and a touch of therapy.
  4. A blog is not meant to be evenhanded and impartial. It is someone’s opinion, like an editorial.
  5. A blog is deliberately published, the author wants you to see it. If it was a secret diary you wouldn’t know that it existed (duh).
  6. If you want to understand blogs, have a go yourself. And improve your reflective skills at least.

*** end update ***

p.s. this post was slept on (and considerably edited) before it was published

p.p.s The image is of a laptop which had its casing removed and replaced with solid wood recovered from old wine cases. I kid you not!

First time in a choir

Went to the Advent service on Thursday evening; sung in a choir for the first time ever. I enjoyed the experience although I am sure most of the bum notes have my voice in there somewhere. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached and he was very good and particularly impressive that he was there given his ill-health earlier in the week. I even got a chance to chat with him afterwards since the church where I’m on placement is the church where he was a curate.

A video of our performance of ‘I’m gonna wait right here’ has made its way to YouTube.

[youtube]0EVBl2KFIeY[/youtube]

Coming up for air

Whale

Tonight I put the finish to my second essay of four that I need to have done by the beginning of January so I thought I’d briefly post as I come up for air before diving into essay number three tomorrow.

On one hand, I feel good. Fellow Ridleians who wander past this site will probably want to give me a good kicking (in love) for having polished off two essays already. On the other hand, I know how much time and effort went into the first two and the thought of doing that all over again isn’t particularly appealing right now. Especially when I did those two essays first because I was interested in the subject matter while these next two I can’t be much bothered with. Is that a terrible thing to admit?

So while I’ve had my head in my books what has been happening? After a particularly solid day’s work last Thursday, I did give myself a treat and went to see the new James Bond movie. I thought it was pretty darn good myself – some parts of it positively sizzled and while other bits were just ‘okay’, it was a significant step up from the cheese of your average Bond movie. Highlight of the night was hearing the couple right behind me discussing whether I was or was not a saddo to go to the cinema on my own. Bless ’em.

In other news, the Church of England website has launched an Advent Calendar which I have to admit is rather good. I didn’t want to like it… but I do. It’s quite simple in focus, clear in its message and ultimately a nice gentle bit of mission in combination with re:jesus that doesn’t try to over-reach itself. If I had to criticise, then I would question the use of Shockwave Flash as a technology on which to build the site. It might make things look more whizzy but it’s not entirely disability compliant and I think the CofE should be setting a lead on how acccessible they make their site as a matter of policy.

In terms of my essays, so far I’ve been writing in my first essay on whether Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christology was not only biblical but prophetically related to his context and ours, and in my second essay whether an active homosexual relationship is a valid option for Christians. I am not sure whether I can post my essays to this site or whether they are technically the property of the college so I will have to wait and see before I upload them here.

One thing that has bugged me is the insistence on a strict 3,000 word limit. When I finished my homosexuality essay and did a count-up I was at 4,600 words and it took me the best part of an evening to cut it down. We don’t get even a 10% either side bit of grace so it’s been a job and a half. If I get a bit of time over Christmas, I might restore that particular essay to 4,600 and maybe fill it out a bit further with some study of the bits I had to skirt over. I might put that version on this site. Either way, I don’t know if I am now clear on the issue but I’m certainly clearer than I was… and on that cryptic note as to which way I am now veering, I’ll sign off.

(If you’re really interested to see what I’ve written, drop me an email and I’ll email it to you).

Church growth at 100%

Screengrab from Evening Prayer, 04 December

I led my second Evening Prayer service of term this evening. I am pleased to say that I must be doing plenty right because there was 100% growth in attendance from last time. Yes, we went from two people plus me to a massive four people plus me! I can scarcely contain my excitement at some dramatic growth… I am sure Fresh Expressions will be on the phone to me shortly to sign me up to a lecture series.

I jest of course.

I thought this time I’d upload what we did so that if anyone else wants to join my burgeoning congregation in Evening Prayer tonight, you can do so. The PDF file has the service, the powerpoint slide show is what accompanied the service on the projector. Both files are available zipped up into one to make the download a bit easier (1.7Mb approx).

If people are interested in where the images came from, I can highly recommend stock.xchng.