Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pink Greenbelt Overview

Before Greenbelt started we were joking it was the Pink and Green festival this year; there seemed so much related to either LGBTQI inclusion or the environment. That may be a little unfair, Greenbelt was and is so much more than that, but there is an element of truth there.

I want to reflect a little on some of the pink and what we might learn from it, (and this will be a longer post because I want to draw out particular points). It won't be a comprehensive review of all the LGBTQI events, particularly as due to a clash I wasn't able to attend the Outerspace Eucharist, something I know when really well again this year. I was also only able to attend the first part of one of the most significant events over the weekend where Vicky Beeching was chairing a discussion on the changing nature of marriage. I didn't get to the My Burden is Light worship from MCC Pentecostal. I did go to an excellent session led by Jacqui Lavelle of NE Gay Asylum Group which looked at the issues around LGBTQI people searching for sanctuary and asylum but I believe that will need to be the topic of a separate post and so am not covering it here because I don't want it to get lost in this.

The pink side of Greenbelt is nothing new on one level. They have been an inclusive festival for many years welcoming Gene Robinson, Peter Tatchell and James Alison to speak amongst others in the past, and their talks have directly addressed issues around sexuality. Other artists and speakers who have been welcomed not talking on these topics have also been LGBTQI. Outerspace and before them Safety Net have also provided a valuable role for many years, indeed the yearly Eucharist played an important role in my own coming out. There was something significantly different going on this year though, which tapped into the overall zeitgeist of this summer. What follows is an overview of panels which contained gay and straight speakers and a queer only panel discussing what could be described as pink material or issues with a pink tinge.
The panel I only managed to catch the first part of was chaired by Vicky Beeching and saw Prof Linda Woodhead, Sara Miles and Prof Robert Song discussing with her what it might be to reimagine marriage. Whilst Robert Song, who has a new book coming out in September, Covenant and Calling Towardsa Theology of Same-sex Relationships took the more cautious approach all of them were broadly accepting there were no real voices of dissent on this panel. Now on one level that is brilliant, as was the standing ovation Vicky got when she came onto the stage but it does worry me. A year ago I was chatting with a good friend who comes from a far more evangelical part of the church and who has been graciously journeying but is still in a very different theological place and she expressed the worry about what place there was for people like her at Greenbelt. Whilst I celebrate panels such as this on many levels and they make me breathe a huge sigh of relief I do worry that we are finding ourselves excluding people such as my friend by not including those theologians who come from different places but know how to express their views graciously.

On Monday morning Rachel Mann, who was chairing the panel We're Not an Issue, We're A Gift, opened the session with a couple of one liners related to "the day the gays take over the big top" and the "coming out event at Greenbelt". The reasoning she gave for these comments was whilst the voices of Gay Greenbelters had been there for many years it was the first time there had been an exclusively queer panel in a venue that size discussing sexuality and gender issues. The contributors were PadraigO Tuama, Sara Miles, Karl Rutlidge and LGCM's Tracey Byrne.  Previously such events had been fringe events organised by Outerspace in small venues. It was followed by a worship event co-ordinated by Byrne where there clerics from the CofE, URC and Methodist Church spoke together with a potential CofE ordinand where the focus was on the position with the main protestant historic denominations regarding same sex marriage.

During both the panel discussion which was followed by a q&a and worship session there was a focus on the positive contribution LGBTQI already make and want to continue to be able to make. There was implicitly within this a questioning of power and the ability of oneself to express a full god given identity, it was a point Padraig made more explicitly towards the beginning of the session. There were also points made about the way it enabled queer people to stand with and on behalf of others at the margins. Sara explained in her community Pride was seen as the feast of the unclean and Karl spoke about this experience of being involved in TDOR events. There was also discussion of the community aspect of experience. Tracey spoke of the disconnect between what is happening on the ground and what the institutional bodies and structures are saying making the point that experiences need articulating back.

Some of that experience was articulated back during the q&a part of the panel session where people discussed their own, often painful, experiences as they asked questions.

The q&a was important because it highlighted the problems on the ground which still need to be discussed, often in smaller spaces for example where straight allies involved in good practice find themselves isolated by other churches.

I want to pick up on two specific things which came out of the sessions which I found interesting. The first was the way in which the voices being given platform were from the historical churches and denominations yet within the questions we heard the voices of the Pentecostals. I want to argue there needs to be much more of a public engagement and working with those who are willing from the new church networks and neo-Pentecostal movements. Now, I am not naive I understand very well the problems and real dangers involved in this in terms of jobs, ministries and so on but I am very concerned that as we enter two years of listening in the historical denominations that the voices or stories of the other churches are being lost and the differences between the more conservative evangelicals and others are being further entrenched. I believe this is particularly important in light of the figures Linda Woodhead gave in one of her talks about the changing religious landscape in the UK. We need to find ways to engage with these people, even if it is not directly. Going back to my earlier point this is why I am worried that the voices of Greenbelters with more conservative evangelical views are not being heard as they once were around the festival or beyond.

The second thing is specifically Methodist, but I believe may reflect something wider. During the discussion Karl had a bit of a mind blank regarding the significant difference between the CofE and Methodists after conference; i.e. our queer clergy can marry and not lose their jobs - something somebody rushed up to correct during the q&a. However, when he was asked about the Methodist position he highlighted the fudge the Derby resolutions gave essentially the two denominations are in a similar place at the moment, but the Methodists are being more compassionate about it. Stephanie Jenner, a Methodist Superintendent, gave a far more optimistic view in the worship session saying Methodists were great on everything, CPD (the Methodist law book) said they had to be. She seemed to suggest it was a foregone conclusion that in two years time that Conference will reach the positive outcome. The reality which is somewhere between the two and far more complicated than I think either of them was ready or perhaps able to outline in that setting was illustrated by a question from Sally Coleman, a Methodist Minister and talented poet/blogger, during the q&a of the first session. She asked about what you do when you are totally affirming, working with those the church and wider society judge to be outsiders from a wider range of backgrounds and then get excluded by those locally in other churches, including from your own denomination. The reality, which the question highlighted, reinforcing the findings of the consultation, was that in some areas it is far harder than in others and you can have all the regulations in the world but if others are of a different view it becomes extremely difficult. Experience within these denominations depends upon what others, particularly those in positions of power do and say.

The highlight of the whole festival for me (from any perspective) was a young people's session I had the privilege to witness. Sally Hitchiner and some of the young adults from Diverse Church - both queer and straight allies - were facilitating a session in the Den which took the form of a brief bit of storyvism (where the young adults told their stories) and the young people breaking off into buzz groups to discuss questions before feeding back. The level of integrity, intelligence and respect in that session coming from the ordinary young people who had packed the tent to overflow was amazing. They were the model of what the rest of the church should look like when discussing this issue. During the discussions LGBTQI and a-sexual youth had the confidence to feed back together with straight youth, sharing their own stories and opinions. The difficulties faced by those coming out in rural contexts were bought up and highlighted as an area which needed wrestling with and there was an understanding that some would be living in situations where safeguarding issues may be a necessary concern to take into consideration when bringing up the subject with parents, for example. On the question of whether there was a need for role models there was real debate and respectful disagreement with excellent points being made by all. I think I am not alone in being an adult who felt privileged to witness that session and learned something important from the way those young people were conducting themselves. As we came out of that session we saw a rainbow in the sky above the site, it was very fitting.

I recently read an article on Generation Z by Angela Cross-Bystrom which I had treated with a certain amount of scepticism. However, having witnessed this youth session I think she is on to something. This generation are socially maturing at a much faster rate and are hugely more aware than those who have gone before them; their discussions are operating on a whole different level which we need to learn from. I never thought youth participation was an optional extra, but having watched them in action I think it is an absolute necessity for the church and wider society.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Greenbelt - Check it Out?

In a couple of days some of us will be descending on a field near Kettering for a few days for an event which the word eclectic was made for. I've been going through my daily diary and here are my top tips for the weekend at Greenbelt:



Glade Stage - Hackney Colliery Band. I've discovered that there are two categories of brass. The first is the traditional English type of band which you listen to and the second is a more world music influenced type you dance to. The Hackney Colliery band come into the second category.

Glade Stage - Stornoway. Indie band where the jingle jangle and quirky lyrics are underpinned by a range of other instruments and voices joining in harmony.


Canopy - Hannah Scott. This Ipswich born singer songwriter played Folk East last weekend has a smooth voice which sings popular acoustic which is gentle and melodic. If you want a pleasant break from the angst and righteousness you could do worse than escape here.

Glade Stage -  StanleyOdd. Last time this lot played Greenbelt it was to a handful of people in the middle of a crazy storm which saw tents washed away and parts of the site turned into a knee high quagmire whilst we danced. Hopefully this time the weather will be a little better for this Scottish indy hip hop outfit whose poetry can make you think and giggle in turns. Expect some insightful comment on the forthcoming independence vote.

Glade Stage - Luke Sital-Singh. There has been something of a buzz going on for this guy's set. Having listened to some of his stuff on You Tube it does grow on. If you enjoy films like Juno and Begin Again think soundtrack music and you'll have his sound.


Big Top - The Cut Ups. This Exeter based band play proper political UK Punk and echo the spirit of '76/'77 but not in some kind of pastiche style. Really glad that they are on in the Big Top because they reflect an important part of the alternative spirit of Greenbelt which seemed to be getting side-lined.

The Canopy - Grace Petrie. Leicester based political poet. Over recent years she has become an integral part of the festival line up with her excellent Braggesque mix of politics and love songs. Look out for Farewell to Welfare as one of the best critiques of our current government going.

The Glade Stage - Sinead O'Connor. Apparently she's been doing some storming sets this festival season. Expect Take Me to Church from the current "I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss" to go down a storm.


 Big Top - Josephine and the Artizans. If you enjoyed the BBC Urban Proms last year this is for you. Mixing hip hop and urban poetry with a more classical approach and throwing in a drop or two of pop this is a really interesting result which works amazingly. Really looking forward to this.

Big Top - Martyn Joseph. Martyn at Greenbelt expressing his rage at what is going on in Gaza, Ferguson and will be emotional; it will be worth hanging around for. Watch out for Luxury of Despair.

Talks and Panels


Living Room - Travelling Heavy, Marika Rose. Marika is one of the brightest UK theologians of the 21st century. She is the sort of person who can think things that would make most minds explode but communicate them in a really accessible way. She is now becoming a regular on the Greenbelt stage and this should be a really interesting talk.

Tree House - Rewriting Lutheran Liturgy, NadiaBolz-Weber. Tattooed American Lutheran Priest Bolz-Weber cuts the crap whilst retaining the awe. She's speaking at Greenbelt as part of a UK tour with Sara Miles which also takes in Manchester and London.

Leaves - Tenx9 - There is a Tenx9 session on in Leaves on both Friday and Saturday night. This is where 9 random people have 10 minutes to tell their story. The Friday theme this year is Travelling and the Saturday is Change. (Karl will be doing a slot on the Saturday session looking at some of the lighter side of his trans story). The Tenx9 team are also doing a Saturday afternoon session in the Youth Venue on the them Social Me.


There is a huge decision to be made on Saturday morning due to it being impossible to move from venue to another without taking at least a couple of minutes. There are also lesser clashes going on and this is the day which will make it worth just buying the bundle of talks.

Glade Stage - The Four-Fold Path to Forgiveness, MphoTutu. This one speaks for itself.

Big Top - The Politics of Hope, Owen Jones. TheEstablishment, Jones' new book is out 4th September and will no doubt be immediately absorbed into the far left cannon and not without reason. Jones is becoming the contemporary voice of an alternative in the UK.

Big Top - Can We Reimagine Marriage? Adam Dinham, LindaWoodhead, Sara Miles, Vicky Beeching. This promises to be a highly academic panel but really accessible at the same time.  

Pagoda - What's Happening in Scotland? Alistair McIntosh. McIntosh is a Scot and a thinker whose work in books like Soil and Soul reflects a strong understanding of Scotland as a nation and its relationship with the rest of the UK and beyond. I have no doubt this will be an intelligent discussion of the Independence debate although you shouldn't expect it to be unbiased from this man of passion.

Pagoda - The Crisis of Religion in the UK: History, Causes and Consequences, Linda Woodhead. If you are a Sociology student about to enter A2 in an institution that does the Belief in Society unit get to this talk or buy the talk. If you are the parent of such a student buy them this one. Beyond that if you are anybody else this will be an interesting and useful listen.

Pagoda - A Political Theology of Climate Change, Michael Northcott. Northcott is the foremost Green theologian in the UK and always worth a listen.
Pagoda - Help, Thanks. Wow, Anne Lamott. Not heard of Lamott before the publicity for the festival came out but there has been a huge buzz coming out of the GB office about her. being over from the US. One worth checking out me thinks.


Living Room - Let us Remember: Stories of Peace from WW1, Pat Gaffney. Gaffney is a well respected peace activist and this will no doubt be a moving and inspirational session.

Pagoda - Richer than God: Modern Football and Money, David Conn. No idea about this one but sounds really interesting from the title.

Living Room - Seeking Sanctuary, Sexuality and Staying Safe, NE Gay Asylum Group. This is one of those sessions which make Greenbelt and which you often just find by accident. It is where voices which may not normally be heard will be heard.

Pagoda - Is the Church of England Worth Saving? Linda Woodhead and Jane Shaw. Ok, so I'm probably recommending Linda Woodhead too much BUT heck the Sociology of Religion is the discipline I'm passionate about. Jane Shaw is also an academic I respect and this conversation has all the hallmarks of a discussion worth listening too.


Big Top - We're Not A Problem, We're A Gift, Rachel Mann, Padraig O Tuama, Karl Rutlidge (and others). This promises to be a really interesting session. I suspect you might hear part of the narrative which is often missed when LGBT people are being treated as either an issue or being treated as victims. Interesting blog from Mann this week about the need for LGBT people to be really listened to by institutions.

Playhouse - What did Brian Ever Do for Us? RichardBurridge. This is following a showing of The Life of Brian.

Pagoda - Politics in Your Village, Not the Westminster Village, Joe Walker, Mark Goodge, Sarah Hutt, Ruby Beech and Jessica Metheringham. I've only heard of one of the panel here, Ruby Beech is a former Vice President of the Methodist Church, but in a discussion of local politics than can never be a bad thing. What I do know about Greenbelt and discussions of this sought is that they are going to contain panels of experts in the area they're talking about. The title alone has a lot of potential within it.



Grove - Blessing the Land, St Albans Forest Church. No experience of them but I have heard others speak very well of Forest Church, a group which have a spirituality of the earth and sky.


The Mount - A Response to Violence Against Women, Christian Feminist Network. This promises to be moving worship with maximum integrity.

Treehouse - Discipleship and Journeying in a Digital Age, Bex Lewis. Lewis is part of CODEC who are out in force for Greenbelt. They are based in St. Johns College, Durham which is an environment which oozes theological reflection. Will be interesting to see what comes out of this and other sessions.

Forge - Outerspace Communion, Outerspace. This is the LGBT Communion for LGBTQI people and their straight allies which I have discussed the importance of before on this blog. Because of a clash with the Tenx9 event I am unlikely to be able to get along but this is always a really moving and well planned event which can provide deep healing for some people.


Main Communion Service - this is always an experience, although it does differ from year to year and good and bad years can be identified. However, there is always something incredibly moving about seeing this many people gather together for communion. I always feel touched that for some Greenbelt is the only church they can handle doing anymore and so it may be the only point in the year they take communion. For others Greenbelt is the only place they feel able to be completely themselves before God and others and that also makes this coming together moving.

Grove, Ruach Blessing, Ancient Arden Forest Church. - Again this will have a huge spirituality to it.


Big Top - Still So Far to Travel. Not quite sure what this event will involve but I am sure it will be an important event.

Treehouse - Spirituality in a Digital Age, Rev. Dr. PeterPhilips. Pete is Director of Codec and a Methodist minister. He comes from a slightly different theological place to many of those inhabiting Greenbelt this year, being more conservatively evangelical and that is no bad thing. One of the great things about GB is the diversity of opinion it allows and the fact it always has a mix of theology coming together.

Aware that there is so much more to Greenbelt I haven't touched on but for me it has always been music, talks and worship so that's what I've focused on. For those who can't get there Clare Balding's Good Morning Sunday BBC Radio Two show will be broadcasting live from the festival again. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Significance of Vicky Beeching's Coming Out

It's been an interesting week in various ways and the coming out of VickyBeeching, Christian theologian and singer in this article in the Independent, was amongst the notable events for me.

You might wonder why the last one has been significant for me. Well, as with many others when I read that article and watched her Channel Four News appearance I felt the power of what was going on not just for Vicky but for the wider church and the community of LGBTQI Christians within it and beyond it. This was not just a very brave coming out, and make no mistake it was a very brave act - not only regarding the royalties involved but more importantly because the size of potential negative reaction is much bigger for public figures. It was also important for several other reasons too:
1) Because of Vicky's profile within the evangelical Christian subculture and the planned nature of this coming out a silence was being broken. The silence being broken was not around the subject itself I don't think. We all know there are LGB people within the church and within the evangelical subculture. What was being broken was the silence around the consequences of repression and the psychological damage of the "pray it away" culture which exists within parts of the church around this and other issues including depression. Now, I don't want to be misheard here, I do believe in a God who answers prayer, but I do not believe in a God who answers prayers to heal people of being gay through taking it away. What I believe in is a God who heals people through helping them come to an acceptance of who they are and what that means in the context of the healthy guidelines he lays down for all human relationships.

2) The second reason I think it was important was because Vicky had sought support from Ruth Hunt. Ruth is the new head of Stonewall. In supporting Vicky through this I have no doubt that Ruth has become far more aware of the nature of issues which LGB Christians from a specific background face. Often people outside in the wider LGBTQI community have been very vocal with regard to faith and the damage it does without understanding what it is like for those of us who choose to remain within the church, yet being honest about our sexuality. I use the "stranger in a strange land" quote to sum up our experience of what it is like.

When she came into her new appointment Ruth said faith was one area where Stonewall needed to work for greater equality. I hope that what Vicky has done and how she has handled it will mean that work will have a greater sensitivity to some specific issues. This has also probably helped develop events such as the LGBT Fellowship event on October 11th where Ruth Hunt will be speaking together with Tracey Byrne CEO of LGCM, a Christian LGBT organisation which has worked with Stonewall over many years including on the equal marriage debate. Because Vicky is a patron of Accepting Evangelicals it is also no doubt building important bridges between Stonewall and members of the evangelical community who have perhaps been more wary of the organisation.

3) What Vicky's coming out through the secular media has done is give an insight into the church for those who aren't part of it. In explaining why she is still part of the church Vicky has been able to explain why the Christian faith she has is important to her and share more about God's love even when the church causes harm. This is an important message of hope, especially for those who are dechurched because of their sexuality. They need to hear that whilst they may have had bad experiences of church God does not abandon them.

The reaction from Vicky's coming out has primarily seemed to be one of love and support as she has explained in some follow up articles. But there is another reaction which has resulted which has not been directed at Vicky and which needs to be acknowledged. That is there are many Christians who have had to think through their reaction to not only Vicky's coming out but to the discussions and debates going on as a result. They have had to think through how what is being said relates not only to Vicky but to other LGBT people they know.

I give one example. I have a friend has a more traditional view on this than myself, which I respect even if I don't agree with it. She was seeing some of the more negative reaction and felt that she had to respond with a status which did not affirm LGB relationships but did say it is between God and the person, we can't judge. As she put it to me "I had somehow got into her head and when she was reading those comments she was thinking of me". I want you to imagine the impact of that type of individual action multiplied across the whole of the social media community which is discussing this. The ripple effect from this is huge and the ripple effects are often unseen and unknown. I knew the story behind my friends status because she felt the need to let me know, how many other status' or conversations which go on off line which are based on such thoughts will we not know about.

There is another side to this wider social media discussion I want to pick up on before I finish and that is to sign a note of warning. During the FB thread which followed somebody who was coming from the other side of the debate raised the point that Vicky could have gone to a Christian organisation which gives the more traditional line for support. In response I made the point that she was a high profile Christian with a media career and that for that reason I think she made exactly the right choices with regard to where she did go to for support and the way she handled it. She is an extremely bright woman and I have no doubt she considered all the options and took wise counsel from those Christians close to her who were aware of what she was wrestling with. What concerns me is in this debate there is a false premise being put forward by those who do not support Vicky's position, such as the Evangelical Alliance, that there is a binary debate going on where one group of people and set of organisations are for or against celibacy and they appear to be seeking to direct people to support groups which advocate only celibacy.

Groups such as Diverse Church who work with young adults, and Gay Christian Network an online support group understand and give support to both those who believe that the sexuality should mean they have to be celibate and those who don't. GCN for example has side B forums, specifically so those who feel that they have to remain celibate can have support. These groups which support people with both understandings and support people coming to their own healthy decisions based upon scripture, tradition, reason, experience and prayer are the ones I believe people should be directed towards. For those who want to understand more about celibacy and the idea of being celibate in a relationship I direct you to Lindsey and Sarah's blog which shares their experience of this.

What I hope this debate will move on to is the wider discussion which is needed which looks at relationships whether heterosexual or LGB. I hope this debate will emphasise that celibacy is a calling some have and seek to explore how we can support those for whom it is a calling but also recognise the bible tells us it is not for everybody. I hope that we begin to discuss more how sex should be in committed, monogamous, healthy, long term, loving relationships and how we support both single people who want to be in relationships but aren't and couples who aren't at that stage yet more.

A final note info note for those who may be interested regarding Greenbelt. Vicky is part of a mixed panel on Saturday at Greenbelt discussing "can we reimagine marriage?".  Karl who regular readers of this blog will be familiar with, is part of a LGBTQI panel on Monday together with Tracey Byrne and others, chaired by Rachel Mann, discussing "we're not an issue we're a gift". Tracey is also part of the group leading a worship event on the Monday entitled Still So Far to Travel. Outerspace is organising a range of events including a Eucharist on Saturday evening. For those wondering if Outerspace or something like it is really needed at what is clearly such a LGBTQI friendly festival I refer you to this article by Fi of the LGBT Fellowship on Safe Spaces - Why They're Important. Outerspace isn't an exclusively LGBTQI space, straight cis-gendered allies are equally welcome - what it does do though is allow LGBTQI people to meet with others and (i) be directed to safe spaces which suit them and (ii) meet others so that in entering they safe spaces they might know somebody or just be able to chat through their concerns about starting to come out in a faith based setting. It also allows LGBTQI people to come together and celebrate the Eucharist together with a liturgy which is specifically appropriate to that group, something which can have deep healing within it.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Every Good Endeavour Review

Every Good Endeavour Connecting Your Work to God's Plan For the World by Timothy Keller,(pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church) and Katherine Leary Alsdorf (founder and former executive director of Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work) is a book which seeks to do exactly what the title indicates. It's a book which attempts to take different aspects of practical theology; Christian ethics, contemporary culture and the link between traditional theological texts and today's society and combine them into a book focused on one area of our lives, in this case work. It also aims to transmit the gospel to people who might not be Christians who happen to pick up the book.

The book is split into three main sections: God's Plan for Work, Our Problems with Work and The Gospel and Work and these are placed between a clear introduction and epilogue. Within each section are three or four separate chapters addressing different yet inter-connected aspects of the theme. Some of these chapters, and indeed sections are stronger than others. The final section is stronger than the preceding ones perhaps because this is the one which contains most practical application.

The more theological section on Our Problems with Work is at points a more problematic read. This is, in part, because of the difference in style which can be seen in some of the writing. This second section of the book has the feel of a set of lecture or sermon notes which are slotted in here, but which have not been specifically produced for this purpose. It is also less nuanced than other parts of the book which seek to take a more complex approach to both theology and contemporary society.

Is it worth reading?

Yes, because if you want to start thinking about how faith and work relate to each other and about the ethics around our attitudes to work how that shapes our education system it provides a lot of helpful material. It also goes back to the early reformers, particularly Calvin and Luther, and reflects on their writings. In doing so one might argue that it seeks to restate what the 'Protestant Ethic' and indeed the 'Spirit of Capitalism' should look like for us today, as Christians in the digital age.

It is also worth reading because Keller and the Redeemer brand, (because that what the book clearly identifies it is in its description - although it seeks to remove the language of the marketplace from the church), provide an interesting insight into a particular type of evangelical church which is emerging which is both similar to and distinct from the more reformed and conservative churches which have largely dominated the evangelical right. The similarities come in the their use of Augustine, Luther and Calvin as the main theological influences and their understanding of sin and the fall. These are most clearly reflected in the second part of the book. Yet in the third part they make it clear they have no time for those who have sought to engage in fundamentalism and culture wars and seek to isolate themselves into a Christian ghetto to give protection from the polluting influence of the world. Rather in this part of the book they have more in common with the more theologically radical progressive evangelicals.
Below is a You Tube clip of a lecture Alsdorf has given explaining Redeemer and their approach.


Can it easily be applied?

On one level yes. The principals within the book about how to engage in a more holistic and Christian approach to work can be understood and applied. For example the importance of taking a Sabbath, (which is something Charlotte Norton has recently blogged about very articulately), is well discussed and theoretically easy to apply.

There is, however, only limited practical advice given on what application may look like and whilst seeking to be an inclusive book most of the examples focus on industries like finance. This is unsurprising bearing in mind Redeemer's Manhattan base and the recognition that this is one of the sectors which many young professionals find themselves working in. Whilst appearing a drawback this is not necessarily a problem. What it encourages the reader to do is either individually or more helpfully working with others in similar occupations is to work through what being a Christian in their specific industry and context would look like.

Are there any shortcomings with this book?  

A few, some of which were things I found niggles and some were more fundamental.

The first niggle I had was with the front cover and the acknowledgement of authorship. This book was by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf who assisted him with the book. It may be to reflect different levels of contribution that Alsdorf's name will be smaller but the size of font with her name was tiny. This is a problem for me because as somebody who has read reports such as Guest, Sharma and Song's report on Gender and CareerProgression in Theology and Religious Studies and Maggi Dawn's post on "There are no women on my theology bookshelf" I understand the importance of female role models and the visibility of women's involvement in work such as this.

The second niggle I had was with some of the language. It was a book which was clearly seeking to be accessible and in large part was but words such as sin and grace were used with an implicit understanding that the reader would understand what these meant. Whilst I don't think these parts of the text should have been dumbed down and acknowledging the majority of the reader would be Christian, American and familiar with these terms, I still think that there were assumptions about biblical literacy being made which are problematic.

One big problem I had with the book was the way in which the gospel and Christianity as narratives were put forward as different to other philosophical and economic approaches without any acknowledgement of how Christianity and our interpretation of the bible is shaped in part by our understandings of those other stories and approaches. This was particularly relevant to a discussion of The Gospel and Other Worldviews in chapter nine, A New Story for Work which sought to position the gospel and faith as something unique and isolated which had one interpretation. Reading this book it was clear that there was an interplay going on between Functionalist sociological understandings of the world and broadly reformed evangelical theological understandings of The Word. Now, don't get me wrong I am not saying these interpretations are wrong but I am saying they are particular understandings and readings. To say there is one Christian reading and approach is I think, on one level, problematic.

Related to this problem was the subtext of some of the examples used in the first part of the book which were seeking to underline and promote a particular reading of Genesis and thus to feed in to non-related debates going on within and beyond the church. Pages 87-88 underlined the basic sub-text being promoted when it said, "Genesis 3 shows how sin warps every part of our nature, every aspect of human living. It begins by distorting the areas of sex, gender, love and marriage."

The most problematic thing for me though was how the very real problems people face of not being able to find work, or finding unfulfilling work or having to work several jobs for low wages to make ends meet were not given practical discussion. They were referred to and it was, rightly, acknowledged that they are one product of us living in a sinful world. However, there was no practical advice to given to help those living in this reality.

For me it would have been useful if there had been additional material on our role as consumers, purchasing goods and services and the impact we have upon other people's work. A chapter on a Christian approach to economics and a discussion of our approaches to taxation and wages may also have been one positive area which could have been looked at.

Final conclusions

Whilst I have underlined some of the things which for me were short comings in this book I did think it was a useful book. I doubt anybody could read it without being challenged in some way and that is always a good thing. It also provides some sound thinking and is clearly based on an excellent understanding of theology, sociology, philosophy and cultural studies. It is a book which seeks to develop practical discipleship and to motivate people to go back to the gospel in developing a holistic approach to life, and work within that. Most of the book is written in a clear, contemporary style which is easy and enjoyable to read. Thus, I would recommend it to anybody BUT I would say if you expect it to provide you with easy answers you may be disappointed.
ISBN: 978-1-444-70260-6

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The baptism of a child is a joyful event, a time for celebration, and so it was on Sunday 5th August when Odette and Lee Mould brought baby Joseph to Stony Stratford Methodist Church. Yet, as friends, godparents and family, including Joseph's older brother and sister, joined together with the regular congregation and Rev. David Moore and Mrs. Jane Wass, who were leading the service, there was an awareness that somebody who should have been there was missing.

Joseph's sister Jessica was there with the rest of the family. She had been born a twin but in 2009, when she was just five and a half, her twin brother Harry died. Harry was missing from the service but was remembered and acknowledged in the midst of the celebration. David, who had baptised all of Odette and Lee's children and was leading his last service, prayed to the "God of us all, of the living and the dead."

In the first part of his reflection Rev. Moore described how Joseph's parents were not strangers to the church, but rather "near neighbours, local companions, friends and co-workers with Christ through their work in supporting children who had been bereaved." He continued, "This man and woman dug deep into their personal darkness and found ways of not being defeated by death! They somehow found themselves doing things that once they most probably would never have dreamed of doing."

He was making reference to Harry's Rainbow, the charity that Odette and Lee formed in 2011. Harry's Rainbow supports bereaved children and their families in Milton Keynes and the surrounding area. They offer resources, group activities, trips and outings to children affected by the death of a significant family member, such as a parent or sibling. There is also a monthly Rainbow group for the children and their families.

Within his reflection on the story of the feeding of the five thousand, which was illustrated on the screen by Eularia Clarke's 1962 contemporary picture (which is part of the Methodist Art Collection), David spoke of the way in which Odette and Lee find it hard to attribute universal significance to modest personal deeds. He continued that by being part of the story of struggle, defeat and victory, they stand tall in God's estimation. He referred to the way Harry's Rainbow testifies that the unimagined can occur - support, hope and new life can bubble to the surface.

The service ended with a moving musical meditation, which was very meaningful to baby Joseph's family and friends, who included members of the Harry's Rainbow core team. The meditation was Judy Garland singing the timeless words of Somewhere over the Rainbow. .The poignancy in those simple words reflected the mixed feelings of celebration and emotion within the service. At the end of the song, the Reverend Moore simply said "the end which was his code for after 60 years of preaching this is my last time conducting a Sunday service.

If you wish to support Harry's Rainbow full details can be found on their website: .
Photo by Derek Beaumont

My note just for this blog: I was asked by David to go to the service and write it up to distribute a report on afterwards. This was a great honour and I felt very blessed to be able to witness this service. I have distributed the article above in various directions.....but please share if you feel appropriate. Thanks to Derek for providing me with several images. I include another picture which to me sums up the spirit of the occasion.