Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Focussing on numbers

Why does the church focus so much on numbers?

"Oh no we don't, we are really concerned about the spiritual development of our congregation". Of course the demonstration of this is a commitment to the church, and involvement in the  programs of the church, which are about getting more people into church. And that is the real focus of the church work - more people in church.

When a church is looking at how successful events have been, what do they look at? Numbers. Because numbers are an easy way of quantifying results. Even if it isn't a good way, it is easy, and it provides one way of assessing it, surely? Numbers indicate how many people engaged with the event, how many felt it to be a good idea? That is important, surely?

The answer to all of that is, no. Numbers are not important. All that they indicate are how popular events are. If you want to get people into church, then leave a fiver on each pew. It will be popular, it will get people into church, but it will not be the right thing to do, because it will not help people engage more with God. And so many church events are not really that different to a fivers on the pews approach. Yes, they get people in, but do they help the real work of the church - helping people to engage with God, helping people find and experience and explore God? Often the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is no, because they do the opposite, and drive people away from God instead.

One of the interesting results I have found in my research is that, whatever the criteria for assessment, that is what people will work to. In a work situation, if you assess people on the basis of, say, number of calls made, then the staff will be making lots of calls, whether they are successful calls or not. If you assess people on the basis of sales made, then sales will increase, irrespective of the value of those sales. And quick sales will be valued above hard-won sales, even though the latter may be better in the long term.

In the same way, if a church establishes the "success criteria" to be "number of people in church", then the congregation will either work towards getting people into church anyway they can; or leave having rejected the basis on which that church exists, because it is not the right reason for the existence of the church.

Focussing on numbers is wrong, however it is done. Setting the wrong "success criteria" for a church will lose people. The only right criteria is that people are engaging with God, experiencing God. That is a very difficult thing to measure, especially in the short term. It does not help measure the success of an event, but on the life of the church over a long time.

Or maybe forget about the "success criteria" concept altogether.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Jane Austen

When the news first broke, I didn't take much notice. The Bank of England had decided to change the character on a bank note, meaning that there would be no women on UK bank notes. It was a disappointing item, more so because there was only one woman on bank notes to start with. I don't think much of it.

Then some people I knew on twitter (@VickyBeeching for example) who were determined to fight for a change, and to make a difference. I was behind the campaign, especially as it seemed to be gaining some chance of success, and there were some really good arguments for appropriate people to be on the note. The campaign was - quite rightly - being led by women for their right to be acknowledged.

And, of course, that argument was won - and quite right. We still need more women on our bank notes, but Jane Austin is good progress. While the aim was serious and important, the campaign was done with a lighthearted edge, Vicki dressing up as Boudicca for the presentation of the signatures. Good for them, and well done for achieving the aim.

And then, this week, one of the people leading this campaign, Caroline Criado-Perez, was subjected to some of the most horrendous abuse on twitter. I followed her, and read some of the abuse that she re-tweeted - it is not for the faint-hearted. One of those abusing her was arrested and charged, but there are many - hundreds - of others.

In case you assume that this is light-hearted, gentle abuse, people telling her to "calm down" or that she is stupid, don't be fooled. The comments have been threats to rape her, comments that she deserves raping, and she is going to get raped. There have been several twitter accounts deliberately set up for the purpose of sending rape-abuse comments to her.

This has, finally, appalled me. It is unacceptable, it is vile, offensive, sickening behaviour towards anyone (her gender is irrelevant in terms of the abuse - this level of abuse towards anyone is wrong). It makes me ashamed to be male, to be on twitter.

There is something very sickening in all of this. The level of sickness in so many people is enough to make anyone wonder about people. That is, until you also see the level of support that Caroline has. So many of those that I follow express the same level of disgust as I feel. Many many others are also tweeting in support of Caroline, who, on the basis of the tweets today, seems to be holding up well against the onslaught. I wish her all the best. I hope that the social media can find appropriate ways of dealing with this sort of abusive behaviour.

Somewhere, there is a spiritual lesson here. Social media can show the best and worst of people. In this case, it is showing both - showing that the depths of depravity that some people show are quite shocking, and the love and care and support that people can show to someone under attack is also immense.

We should not forget that these depths and these heights are achieveable by everyone. The Christian message is not that all Christians are nice people, but that all people can reach to the heights, as well as sink to the lows.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Justin Welby takes on Payday Loans

Well, the Archbishop is taking on Wonga, wanting to challenge them not by legal means, but by competition. This is an interesting statement, and it made me think, because I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad idea.

Let me make it clear, the proposal to support credit unions is a good one, because credit unions are a good idea, and I completely support them. What is more, Wonga and other similar payday loan lenders are bad, charging exorbitant interest, and drive people more and more into debt.

So I have no problem with the church either standing out against the loan companies, or in support of credit unions. I am just not sure whether this is the right way to go about making a change.

The problem is the story I was told of one credit union in Essex, which was initially hosted in a church, but didn't take off until it moved out. The problem I have is that, by making this close association, the negative associations of the church might reduce take up.

There are problems with the perception of the church, and having "church" support to the credit unions, especially if they are involved financially and closely, then there is a danger of this reflecting negatively. Some people - and often those in the greatest need - struggle with the church, and may refuse to use credit unions if they have problems with the local church.

This is where I think my concerns lie. Many of those in need have problems with the church, either personal ones, or because there is a sense  that the church is not always the most moral of organisations. The problems of individual clergy reflect badly on the church as a whole; the problems of the church as an organisation reflect badly on the local church.

And there are some who might feel that this is the ex-banker wanting to turn the church into another bank, to sort the churches financial problems. Now I should point out that I don't think Justin Welbys motives are mistaken here - I don't think he is trying to do anything of the sort. I think he is trying to use his business and financial knowledge to address some of the critical problems of our country - getting money to those who need it. I think that is a good and worthy thing to be doing, and a great use of his skills.

However, I wonder if he fails to see the problems, because his perspective on the church is a warped positive one. I think he misses the fact that, for many people, the church is not the beacon of hope and light that he sees it as. For all his good intentions and ideas - and I firmly believe that he is right in so much of what he says here - I wonder if it is too late for the church to be involved in this.

Since I started to write this, more revelation have come to light that the CofE actually has money indirectly invested in Wonga. It is an oversight that he had not checked up previously, but he has promised to check up on it - let us hope that he is serious about this, and addresses the investments that the church has, not just in Wonga but wider. His reaction and response to this was excellent, but it indicates that the institution is already compromised. This is the reason that it should not be involved in something like the Credit Unions, not directly.

 The compromised nature of the institution is also reflected in the local churches - not in the same way, or to the same extent, but still compromised, to the point that involvement in these sorts of enterprises, on an official level, is a mistake. On a personal level - where churches or, better, individuals, support and enable the unions - that is where the involvement should be.

Maybe the real answer is to say very loudly and very clearly that Wonga is not an answer to your financial problems. A credit union might well be. Give them a try.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A baby is born

This week, a very important baby was born. Well, actually, several very important babies were born this week, as every week. Every baby is important, every baby is of significance to their family, and some of them are important wider than those who know them.

One of those babies born was, of course, Prince George Cambridge. It has had pretty much blanket coverage in the media, which has bored most people, although I am sure that some people have enjoyed it. Nobody on my twitter feed, though.

This media coverage is something that the young family will have to get used to - it is part of being members of the royal family, celebrities of the highest order. Has it been too intrusive over this pregnancy? Probably. On the one hand, knowing that everything is OK is of interest, and important. Prince George is third in line to the throne, and - however much we may want to pretend it is otherwise - ensuring the succession is important. It is of interest, and of importance, whether you are a royalist or not. That does not mean that every last nuance of the pregnancy and birth need to be reported on.

On the other side, I hope that, like William and Harry, George will be allowed to grow up without the glare of the media. I hope that they will be allowed to have as normal a life as possible given their status, not least because it does seem to have enabled William and Harry to mature into the princes they are today. OK, maybe Harry could have done with a little longer out of the limelight. But I am proud of them, and hte way that they have turned out.

And yet George is exceptionally privileged - this is something that we cannot ignore. This is not his fault, any more than it is William's fault that he is destined to become king one day. This is the structure of our nation, and, for good or bad, that is what we have to live with. I would not consider myself an ardent monarchist, but I do think that the system does not actually work that badly. Whatever we may think, the royals are not the real problem.

The real problem is that there were many other babies born this week, and some of them have been born into poverty. The real problem is not that Prince George is privileged. The real problem is that those in real power in this country - the politicians - have abused and betrayed the poor. The real problem is not that some people are well off, it is that some people are not. And that the division between the richest and the poorest is getting greater.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Music and the church

I think there are a number of reflections from my time at the Sonar festival of modern music that I can make about music generally, and music in the church specifically.

The first one is that in the church we don't seem to appreciate music for its own sake. Too often "music" is simply the accompaninet to "singing". What is important, of course, are the words, not the music. Even instrumental breaks tend to be a chance for the congregation to get their breath back.

A significant portion of the performances I have been hearing have been music only. No words, or rather, words incorporated as an instrument into a performance. This music is intense and moving - worshipful if you want.

There are some places where they do perform music - usually organ or orchestral. However, this is so often treated - by the audience at least- as "performance". The style of music lends itself to this. Why can this not be considered as "worship"?

Now of course, musical creation is "performance" to an extent. But good quality musical production can also lead us to worship. No words needed. In fact, in the best cases, words just get in the way - although I accept that for me, this might be an emphasis because I play an instrument but I cannot sing.

The second one is that we don't really like to embrace the "feel" of music, when it is loud. Yes, some places do have good organists who can make you feel the deep bass notes. Much of my experience is that turning up the volumne is considered "un-worshipful". Because, of course, the important thing is to hear the congregation singing, not the music.

And yet gut thumping bass notes are visceral, intense and deep. I want to be on the front row of a concert like this, feeling the music, seeing the performers. Do I want to be on the front row in church? Do I manage to "feel" the music? Not usually. So often the music it is more connected to a hippy acoustic guitar jam than anything vaguely modern.

The style of music is also interesting. Of course no two people will agree on a musical style - which is why so much church music is bland, anodyne crap - but there is a place for the Sonar "modern" - Electronic - music. The buzzes, the drop outs, the synthesiers, the conputer created music. this is all music, and this is all a part of the rich tapestry of what music means. The problem so often is that offering one particular style of music, normally justified because "you cannot please everyone" or "it is inoffensive" does not make sense. It is offensive, because it is too bland. Not pleasing everyone means you choose who you want to please - or you please no-one. So why does no-one choose to please clubbers, or metal-heads, or electronica fans or ....

Now I should point out that there has been one significant experiment with this - the infamous Nine O'Clock Service in Sheffield. I hesitate to mention it because it is for many people associated with the abuse and manipulation that was at the heart of it in the later days. I think - from my perspective - the damage done by this abuse is far more serious, because it has damaged the reputation of such services for another generation. It is a pity, because it could have been the model for worship into the twenty first century.

And yet even that, from the videos I have seen of the services, was still very much focused on words, on the liturgy, but with background music playing. Now the music was better, but it was still - for me - far too focused on words.

Until we lose our slavery to words as the most appropriate expression of worship, I doubt the church will move from its inherently modernist standpoint. I doubt that a church based on words will survive.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Milton Keynes

I am back working in Milton Keynes again - I was there for 7-8 months last year, and I did get some stick when I shared my thoughts about the town. I will probably get the same this time.

Milton Keynes is a dire, soulless place, that depresses me intensely whenever I have to work there.

I accept that living there is different, but my experience is working there, and that is dire.

Just to be positive, the road system does work. It works really well, even when there is a problem - finding a different route around a blockage is easy. Because people find different routes to places, there is relatively little congestion. I also gather that it is a great place for shopping. So it does have its good points.

That does not change my initial thoughts on the place.

Now I know that some people are thinking "Well, if you like the rural life, the quaint, then maybe it is not for you." Well, I can appreciate a concrete style - I went to UEA, which is built of concrete, and is stunningly beautiful. As my son commented "If you are going to build in concrete, this is the way to do it." I also took my first job in Bracknell, another new town, which I enjoyed living in.

So I can appreciate the aesthetic. Just not in Milton Keynes.

Or maybe it is that I like places I live, and not places I work? Ah no, because I have likes some places I have worked, and not liked some places I have lived. It is something about Milton Keynes itself.

The thing is that transport around the town is very good. There are cycle ways to get around, and the major roads are kept away from the residential areas. Also the shops and working areas are distinct and separate from the residential areas. The town is segregated, meaning that you don't live near an industrial estate or a shopping centre.

That, I think, is the real problem with the town. It seems to reflect one of the biggest problems in so much of life today - the separation and segregation of life, of the various aspects of life, like our work, our family, our worship, our faith. Everything is segregated and separated; we have strict divisions between these, and rigidly defined routes from one to the other, maybe tree lined. The problem of Milton Keynes is that everything is laid out, rigidly structured. There are trees and parks, but they are not so much natural, as the places that the planners decided a park was needed.

Now I am sure that I have misrepresented the town to an extent. I am sure that it is a lovely place to live in. But it does depress me, because to me, it feels inhuman. Humanity is confused and mixed, and the routes between the parts are not fixed and set. The connections between the parts of our life are random and diverse - that is what makes us odd and wonderful. When we insist on splitting ourselves up, on regimenting our lives, we lose out in all areas.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Conference season

Its conference season again, and this will continue through the summer, I presume, which means that my twitter feed is full of people on conferences tweeting the significant and important comments made by speakers.

It all frustrates me, and makes me want to respond to all of them in the same way.

The problem - and it is an endemic problems with conferences as well as with the church as a whole - is that there is a whole lot of words, and rather less action. The thing is, the words are often really good, really positive, but I have heard them all before, and I know that they do not get put into practice.

So often in churches, it seems that the statement of the words is seen as all that needs to be done.

"We believe that our priority should be to reduce our administration and paperwork"

"Excellent idea - lets set up a working party to formulate a policy about this"

It makes me think of a scene from Blackadder goes forth, where Captain Blackadder is condemned to be shot, and Percy and Baldrick identify a plan to save him. They are so delighted by their plan that they drink to celebrate. And keep drinking to their success, forgetting to actually put their plan into action.

It strikes me that the church is so often into doing this. A key feature to the success is identified - for example, a focus on young people. The church goes through its processes to include this in a mission plan, to incorporate it into the church meetings - PCCs or whatever - and this is it. Actually doing anything to change the way the church does things to actually focus on young people is something that is supposed to come out of this, but actually it doesn't, ever. It becomes an indication of disappointment, and is seen to be achieved when someone who might be younger than the average comes to church more than once.

So let me take an example of one from recently: "Worship should be for the community, not the congregation" - an interesting idea, roughly the context of some of the tweets form yesterday. I agree with this, in principle - and I should point out that in most cases, the comments and ideas are GOOD, I don't disagree with the expressions - but it means nothing. Because in a real church, this will mean changing the worship, the style and form of worship. It may mean that the musicians have to change. It may mean that the repertoire needs to be renewed. It may mean that the liturgy needs to be rewritten. And the robes might have to go, not to mention the pews and the building. Why Sunday mornings?

If we take these ideas seriously, it will mean radical, serious, huge change to the way the church does things. It might be that we have to listen to some very harsh comments - like the truth about the crap music we so often have - and take those on board. It WILL mean that the some people in the existing congregation will leave. It will be painful and difficult, and if you do it, you will be hated by some people, and you will question your motivation.

It is much easier to just write a policy, and continue as we are. Which is why we do. Of course it is also nice to have these annual conferences to give us some good ideas, and make us feel like we have been a part of a radical new focus on faith.

So yes, I like all of these ideas. But we don't live them out. Even those of you who are tweeting them as fantastic ideas will not put them into practice.

Will you?

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sacrificial Giving

Have you noticed how this phrase is almost exclusively used in terms of YOUR giving to a cause that the speaker believes is a good one? Or, sometimes, as a boast to guilt-trip you into giving or doing more? Sacrifice is something we seem to be told or shamed into doing.

The problem is twofold. Firstly, the terminology is so often used when it is not appropriate. In fact, this is more general, applying to the sacrifice terminology in general. Most of the time when someone talks about "sacrifices" they make, they are actually talking about "lifestyle choices", and everyone makes them. the essence of a choice is that you choose one thing instead of another, meaning that you don't get or do the thing you reject.

So people who have "sacrificed" a holiday for Gods work in some way have actually just made a lifestyle choice to do Gods work, or pay for it, rather than take a holiday. In non-church-land, people "sacrifice" a family or relationships to make it to the top of business - again, this is a choice, that they have chosen to be a successful businessperson rather than focus on personal or social life. You cannot have both, so you have to choose one.

I, of course, made the other choice to have a family and social life rather than being a top business person. Maybe - it could be my lack of business acumen payed some part too. But I would never speak of it as having "sacrificed" a world-leading career. My life at the moment is simply the result of the choices I have made, good or bad, and I have to live with it.

The reason it bugs me when used in church circles is that these "sacrifices" are so often done to earn divine brownie points. There is something inherent in the "sacrifice" terminology that assumes God owes you something for the sacrifices you have made. By implication, if I also make the sacrifices, God will give me something back too.

Now really, I don't mind if you want to play your game of Church Sticker Books, getting the "sacrificing" sticker in place. But I no longer play that game, because I believe that Christianity is far more than that, and far more important than that. It is not a sacrifice, it is a choice. I choose to give my money to the church. I choose to spend my Sundays there, not to mention at least one other night in the week. I choose my lifestyle, and so I choose to not do some things, because that is the nature of choices.

Secondly - this is not the OT understanding of sacrifice. The sacrifices were made simply because they were the social and religious system that was in place. If, for example, you committed a sin, you had to pay for this with a sin offering. You had broken the rules, and so had to make restitution (to the offended against person and to God, whose rules you had broken). And it is worth noting that the sacrifice is made by the animal, not the person - the terminology is largely that a person makes an offering of an animal which is then sacrificed. Sacrifice means dying, and it is the animal who is sacrificed. The person is simply making an offering - a choice, if you want.

Of the New Testament takes the concept of sacrifice to a different level with the sacrifice of Jesus for everyone else. The point of this is that it is the last sacrifice - no more are needed. Offerings are still important, choices to join the community, to contribute to it, to live in a certain way. But sacrifices?

So can we have an end to this talk of sacrificial giving in the church please? Using a pseudo-spiritual word to make it seem like something special is always bad, and in this case especially so. Lets talk about making choices, about the fact that if we make the right choices, we will probably be happier. But I don't know what the right choices for you are, and you don't know what the right choices for me are. I will follow what I understand to be Gods leading, however I understand that.

And I will leave sacrifice to Jesus. He has done quite enough.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Music or words?

One of the interesting things at Sonar is the lack of words accompanying the music. It is not entirely, but substantially instrumental (if that is the right word for electronic music, or electronica-inspired). Kraftwerk, one of the headliners, are (unusually, I suspect) more wordy and song-based than many of the act and artists I have seen.

For me - and I know this is not for everyone - music speaks more than words, often. In fact, words can often detract from the message, because they are a clumsy method of communication. Some of the most intense, wonderful, passionate and emotive performances involved people expressing themselves through the music, not the words. The reason is, in my view, because music expresses emotions and feelings better than words.

So why is it that church music is very substantially accompaniment to singing? Even the occasional times when the musicians or organist play something without congregational involvement, they normally play a song, something recognisable, that people might sing along to. It seems that music in church is song and hymn tunes.

That is wrong. Letting musicians express themselves using music, using the instrument that they play (and, for many of them, is a way of worshiping) may not appeal to everyone, but will be worship, and sometimes will be very powerful worship.

There are two Sonar performances that, for me, illustrate the importance of music without words. Firstly, Elektro Guzzi, who performed a musical piece for 50 minutes, and it was moving, emotive, touching, worshipful. It was three musicians who were exploring with their instruments, and this exploration was exciting, imaginative, and fun. The musicians were enjoying themselves, and this was communicated to the audience. Was it worship? Maybe.

The second performance was Beardyman. He is a performer who records sounds with his mouth and uses them to generate music. Everything we heard was sounds he had made, but very little singing (there was a little, but even this was not "songs", but words used as musical components). This was music, made with the human voice. This was an indication that the human voice can be used in music, without it being "singing".

Christianity puts too much emphasis on words, I think. We like our books, our service orders, our songs, our words. I don't mean that words are irrelevant, just that we miss out on so much else when words are always our focus. We miss the emotional engagement that music has, we miss the versatility of the voice, we miss the power of pictures and images. And so we miss out on so much of Gods creativity.

Monday, 8 July 2013

John Inverdale and Wimbledon

John Inverdale got into all sorts of trouble over the weekend for making comments about hte Wimbledon ladies singles winner Marion Bartoli "not being a looker". He has apologised, which does not excuse the original comments. Spoiling someones crowning moment with these digs is not redeemed by saying sorry on Monday morning.

There was also a whole lot of comments about Andy Murray being hailed as the first British winner of Wimbledon for 77 years - also inaccurate, as Virginia Wade won in 1977. Of course, that was the womens championship. He is the first winner of the mens title for 77 years, and congratulations to him for doing so.

Let me make a couple of points. Marion Bartoli may not be a model, or a pin-up, but she is not ugly. More importantly, her looks are utterly irrelevant - she is a sports-woman, and it is her sporting prowess that is significant. She has just won the premier prize in her sport, and that is what everyone should be celebrating - it is a remarkable achievement for anyone to do, and she has worked hard for it. Kudos to her for lifting the trophy. I don't care about her looks, her religious views, her sexuality or anything else. She has achieved sporting perfection, end of subject.

Nobody makes similar comments about the men. Despite the fact that game has come to be dominated by people who are freakishly tall. That is just the nature of the game.

This sexism does seem to be rather endemic in the sporting world. Womens football does not get the same coverage as mens, and the same applies to rugby. Womens sport is seen as "letting the girls have a go", whereas mens sport is, of course, serious.

Interestingly, there are moves in some sports that I follow to make a difference, despite the fact that they are currently utterly male dominated. In snooker, there are attempts to include women in the same league as men
at least in some cases, although the real problem is that there are not the incentives for women to aim for the top in this sport. The core issue is that, because it is dominated by men, women do not see it as a viable route to sporting success. It can be self-perpetuating, but I really hope that there is a change in the next few years. There is no reason why men and women should not participate in this sport as equals.

My other sport is F1, which is hugely dominated by men. However, the presentation this year on the BBC has included the wonderful Suzi Perry, who is a real motorsport enthusiast, and is a welcome addition to the team. They also use Susie Wolff, who is vying for a top-rank drive - and all the best to her. The evidence is that she is more than capable, so I hope she gets a drive soon. It is also good to see Claire Williams - the daughter of the founder - taking up an important role in the Williams team.

This is only a start, but it is an example of non-sexism. Suzi, Susie and Claire have achieved their current positions by virtue of their ability, not their gender. Their looks undoubtedly help, but their sporting knowledge/ability is the core factor. Susie should get a drive, not because she is female, but because she is good enough. The evidence is that she is accepted on this basis, very largely.

Yes sport has a long way to go. Some more than others. As do some sports presenters.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Hold on - if love is the answer ....

For my birthday, I received Daft Punks new album, Random Access Memories.

The heart of the album is a track called Touch, and this title is taken from the lyrics of this track. There are two somewhat surreal tracks on the album - this one and Contact, the final track. They are, in my view, also the two most exceptional tracks.

Overall, the album is exceptionally good, fantastic to listen to. Does it live up to the hype? No, because nothing could live up to some of the hype, but it does live up to the expected quality from Daft Punk. If anything, it is even better than Discovery, their previous blockbusting work of genius. RAM does have the same sort of feel-good sense of Discovery too.

Anyhow - Touch and this lyric. The thing is, the lyrics are not entirely clear, and this line may end with "... you want", or "... you're wrong", or "'re home". In fact, it could even start with "Oh no..." This sense of lyrics almost but not quite heard is just one of those things that makes it more odd and surreal. So what does it mean.

But what does it mean? Of course, that is a big question. As with any work of creativity, the original meaning that the creator had in their mind is only part of the answer, and what that is we do not know anyway. There is also the interpretation from the recipient, there is the way that I interpret and understand it, what it says to me, and that is what I want to explore.

The core part of this lyric is "if love is the answer" - something that resonates well with the Christian idea, which argues that Love IS the answer. The context of the song appears to be that of a being or a robot or a person who has died, and who is receiving life for the first or second time. It is about the essence of what life is about.

Love is the answer - and love is shown by touch - the communication and connection that is made by the touch, the feel, the sense of another person. But what of the parts around this central comment? The fact that the implications of love being the answer are rather vague are what this is about. Maybe love - shown in the engagement with other people - is what you want, in which case, maybe you are home. Or maybe the touch is not enough, maybe the love shown is not the be all and end all of life.

What do I understand by this lyric? I think I understand that the touch of other people - not necessary or solely the physical - is the core of love, the core of "the answer". If love is the answer, then love is found in the ministrations of others, and it can be found in all sorts of places. If love is the answer, you are already home, wherever you are, wherever there are other people to engage with. That is my take on it, that is what I get from it, and this is a positive message, a message of hope and encouragement that love is to be found in other people.

Hold on. Love is the answer. So you are home.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Country fair time!

It is the time of year when everywhere has their fairs and stuff. the park over the road had their "Larks in the Parks" yesterday - a local organised set of stuff in a number of the local parks.

One church I used to attend used to like took this opportunity to set up a prayer tent, providing prayer for people who want it at the local event. I was always uncomfortable with this, but I think I am starting to understand why I don't like it. There are three reasons:

1. The demographic who will respond to this are the same demographic who are currently in the church. Yes, it may reach some people not previously reached by the church, but it is the group of people that the church would tend to attract. It is not really doing anything new - "Oh yes, the church is praying for people. I never expected this!"

2. The event has brought one or two new people into church. However, is this the purpose? Getting one new person into the church - or enabling people to engage with God? We have such a focus on Numbers In Church as if this is the thing that is most important. Yes it is good that someone sees something of God in the event, but praying is notoriously unreliable. What about those who are prayed for and feel nothing? Those who expect more than is on offer (and there was never a promise of anything), and are disappointed?

If you rely on counting Bums on Pews, then you ignore those that you drive away. Bums on Pews is easy - put a fiver on each pew, and people will come. The problem is that those people who are prayed for and get nothing out of it, those who are turned away from God because of their experiences, these never get counted.

3. The big problem is that by putting all of the resources into this is that so many other opportunities go begging. There are other chances - to do things that are unusual, that provide something other organisations are not doing. Why is the church not organising a nightclub, for example, for the younger people in the area? Or put together a music stage - and bring in some local bands playing some different and unusual music.

So this is the problem I have with the church doing the same thing for the same people as always. If the church really wants to be effective, do something different, do something radical, do something that will really challenge the church members, push them to the limits and beyond. And see what God might do with that.

So to anyone else organising something for a summer fair, forget the prayer ministry, forget the cake stalls, forget the bookshop and hire a techno DJ to party into the night. Or something - but do something different.