Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mission Shaped Intro

Another course that is worth a look is this one on Mission Shaped stuff from CMS. Follow the PowerPoints and PDFs and find some interesting thoughts on rethinking church to reach contemporary culture. One difficulty I have with this is that it is obviously aimed at people in settings such as Anglican and Methodist and feeling a bit ineffective. Not that any type of churches have all the answers but it would be interesting to adapt this to take other types of churches, such as ones like ours, as starting points in the re-thinking process.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Resurgence of Religion

Today in the Awareness Course we were discussing religious fundamentalism and how this as increased across the world in recent years as a reaction to increased secularism in Europe and yet has different roots in the Middle East and America. Fundamentalism is often viewed negatively. To be fundamentalist as it is associated with very arrogant thinking and literal interpretations of scriptures. None of identified ourselves as fundamentalists but maybe we would have done many years ago. Unfortunately we didn’t really get a chance to discuss evangelicalism.

We had a bit of a history lesson not only looking at how the Enlightenment in Europe heralded the way for secularism but more interesting tracing history back to Middle East we were also noting that there was a time when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in a greater harmony than today. Eventually their cultures were suppressed by the Ottoman Empire which apparently they have never recovered from and they are still trying to re-establish their cultural identities today but very much in conflict with each other. I wondered what they had in the past that we don’t have today.

We then briefly turned our attention to the States. It was interesting to note that Americans prefix their national identity with say English-American or Afro-American. We discussed how this American identity is reinforced seeking a common enemy – terrorism today – ‘reds under the bed’ 50 years ago. We finished off mentioning that although associated with influences of moral majority/right wing fundamentalism it is surprising how much immorality comes out of American media.

Monday, January 21, 2008

How to download videos from YouTube

I recently saw this little ad on anorexia. I’ll be teaching anorexia at college soon. Although it is great that we can show the internet in class through the computer projectors it is frustrating that videos are blocked. I found it on YouTube and thought that it was a pity that YouTube doesn’t let you download the videos. 'Is there another way?' I asked. Well a colleague showed me If you copy the address of your video into this site then it will save it for you. The downside is that you need to install the video player from keepvid's site in order to watch the video. So though this will enable me to play any YouTube video when I’m offline on my laptop I still can’t use it at college because the college system won’t let me install the player. Oh well! Never mind.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Living in a Global Village

Globalization was the topic for this week’s Awareness Course. Our fast developing communications technology means that it feels like the world is getting smaller. Increasingly your location on the globe becomes irrelevant as you can talk to anyone anywhere and have products transported from anywhere to your doorstep. Time doesn’t matter that much either out of season as fruit and vegetables are increasingly available. This has produced improvements in the quality of people’s lives especially in the West but at what cost?

Some of the effects that we discussed included how graduates in developing countries are likely to end up with careers in call centres, and how the vast majority of say our toys and shoes are made in China because labour is cheap there. But with raising fuel costs and increasing awareness of these conditions for how long can this keep prices down. Might the decline of farming and manufacturing in the West mean that we may not be in any position to compete?

The course argues that developing worlds perceive the influx of media technology (e.g. flat screen TVs, mobile phones, internet connections etc.) as a deliberate attempt by the West – especially by America – of exporting their culture. They see this as today’s imperialism or colonialism. New technology is resulting in a decline in respect for elders whose wisdom is becoming seen as dated. In a similar way they ask ‘Why should thousand year old civilizations be told what to do by a nation that is only a couple of hundred years old?’

On the other hand Westerners may feel invaded by the waves of immigration that have occurred in recent years. Whereas ethnic minorities to some extent may have retreated into ghettos we should remember that the Bible encourages us to be hospitable to aliens. We discussed how the Bible seems to affirm the idea of nations although it comes second to our citizenship of God’s kingdom and certainly should not be expressed at the expense of others. One interesting comment was that the sort of political correctness in local government that aimed to impose these minority cultures on the masses probably peaked about five years ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conflict of Cultures in the Third Millennium

The Awareness course kicked off this morning and very quickly we got into a very interesting discussion about what it is like to live in Birmingham where so many cultures live side by side surprisingly peacefully despite the flare ups of the odd race riot that we thought is probably due more to poverty than ethnic issues. Which is worthy of note as the aim of the course is after all to help us as Christians living in a multi-cultural society to be aware of and to develop our understanding of other faiths and cultures in order bring peace.

The course discusses the fact that in a world recovering from colonialism people are asserting their own ideas of spirituality. It was commented that we are continually encouraged by our culture to be tolerant but the meaning of this term – as is the case with so many terms today – is mutating and coming to mean agree with or condone. Christians cannot afford to be like some of the puritans who withdrew from their culture but instead needs to be incarnational within it, i.e. we are to bring the attitudes of the Trinity into our relationship with others.

We are today in the UK living in post-Christian culture. There are still many principles in our laws that are grounded in a Judeo-Christian viewpoint such as being innocent until proven guilty by the testimony of witnesses and principles of hospitality to the foreigner. Interestingly we can see recent changes in the Government’s approach to multi-culturalism as the buzz word of ‘diversity’ is giving way to the new buzz word of ‘commonality’. Gordon Brown talks about what we all have in common as British citizens such as the values of fairness, respect and tolerance which we were saying is in effect an ‘over tolerance’.

So how are we as Christians to transform our culture? On one hand we can come over as too aggressive but on the other we can be like, “The man who marries the spirit of one age and becomes a widower in the next”. We discussed the values of complaining to the media and petitioning parliament as the ‘Christian Institute’ does and thought that it was more important to petition for laws that were issues of ‘justice’ to others rather than ‘righteousness’ for instance against laws that would impede us in to preach the gospel. But complaining or petitioning we said often come from an idea of defending God especially when people complain to media say about blasphemy. But our God does not need defending as “our saviour has already been humiliated”.

We wondered if we need to shift our focus on transforming our culture from one that complains and lobbies to one that says, let us do our work in a godly way just as Christians called to politics do their work in a godly way. We finally discussed how we are to both educate others and ourselves about our faith as we do this. It is as we apply our faith (and explain it to others) that we really come to understand it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Awareness Course

I am very excited about the a new midweek teaching programme that our church is about to embark on called ‘The Awareness Course’. This course was co-written by Father Nadim Nassar who spoke recently at Celebration 07 – the annual conference for our group of churches - and he is part of an organisation called the Trinity Foundation for Christianity and Culture. The course can be run in any type of church or denomination. It is designed to explore what it means to be a Christian in a multi-cultural world that embraces many different faiths. It discusses how we can hold on to our unique faith whilst still appreciating and respecting others as part of our diverse culture. To this end this course enables Christians to be strengthened in their own faith and to learn about other faiths at the same time. One of its stated aims is to reduce fear and ignorance, bringing peace and understanding whilst examining the world of the 21st century from a Christian viewpoint. It looks like this will involve both presentations and lots of discussion. Three of our church members have been trained to deliver this material and there are PowerPoints and lots of handouts that accompany this course. It all looks really good. I’ll let you know how it goes.