We’re all individuals…

I’m not!

Remember that scene in The Life of Brian? Well it seems that conforming is just what people do.

And maybe it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes…

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We may have to remove these! Ice fencing anyone?

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Any excuse

’tis the season to…give up and go home early!

We’re really no good at snow here are we? Snowing most of the morning in Leeds and the office was 3/4 empty by lunchtime. So with conference call done with, I was off home by 2 pm.

Trouble is, the sun then came out, and the train journey home was through a lovely winter wonderland! And I felt a real fraud. Hey ho.

Sam, Kathryn and Mr Snowman

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The Wasteland

This has been the dominant view from my office window for the last couple of years, since the development was initially put on hold and then finally canned.

It was to be a huge, 40+ storey, apartment block.

Well, I doubt that’ll ever happen. But I’ll know things are picking up when there’s a little more going on outside.

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Ideal Home?

Next time we move, I’ll be demanding a swing in MY living room.

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Keep it simple

I seem to have developed a collection different social networks and mini/micro/nano-blogging sites, from Tumblr to Posterous to Twitter, all feeding one way or another into Facebook (which has become a necessary evil!)

I am going to try to keep things simple and I hope more flexible, by using my WordPress site for pretty much everything where 140 characters is just not enough.

We’ll see how that goes!

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Nobody listens to me!

I came across an article in Nature, Fixing the Communications Failure discussing why people are so seldom convinced by scientific arguments.

There are plenty of examples – climate change, the MMR vaccine, nuclear power and the article discusses how ‘cultural cognition’, described as ‘the influence of group values — ones relating to equality and authority, individualism and community — on risk perceptions and related beliefs’ can be a barrier to getting a message across.

We are told about a famous 1950s psychology experiment, where researchers showed students from two Ivy League colleges a film of an American football game between their schools in which officials made a series of controversial decisions against one side. Asked to make their own assessments, students who attended the offending team’s college reported seeing half as many illegal plays as did students from the opposing institution. Group ties, the researchers concluded, had unconsciously motivated students from both colleges to view the tape in a manner that favoured their own school.

It is argued that cultural cognition causes people to interpret new evidence in a biased way that reinforces their predispositions. The article gives the example of a trial which showed that ‘people who were supplied with neutral, balanced information immediately splintered into highly polarized factions consistent with their cultural predispositions’.

So how can this be avoided?

One method, taking the example of climate change, is to present information in a manner that affirms rather than threatens people’s values. It is suggested that people with individualistic values resist scientific evidence that climate change is a serious threat because they have come to assume that industry-constraining carbon-emission limits are the main solution. They would probably look at the evidence more favourably, however, if made aware that the possible responses to climate change include nuclear power and geoengineering, enterprises that to them symbolize human resourcefulness.

The other suggestion is that sound information should be vouched for by a diverse set of experts. People feel that it is safe to consider evidence with an open mind when they know that a knowledgeable member of their cultural community accepts it.

So what? Well I guess that whilst the article is aimed at issues of science, the concept of cultural cognition has much wider application – whatever message we may have, we should take note of these ideas – work hard to understand the values driving our audiences perceptions & world view and recognise that folk are more prepared to listen to ‘people like them’.

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Forgotten Church (2)

This is my second post to consider Alan Hirsch’s book, ‘The Forgotten Ways” and pick up on just a few of the points which particularly interested me.

Hirsch notes times when the Christian Church experienced sustained, rapid growth, majoring on two examples: the early new testament church, which he suggests grew from 25 thousand people in AD100 to 20 million by AD310 and also China, where at the beginning of Mao’s rule (and severe restrictions on the church) it is estimated there were 2 million Christians, reaching 60 million by the time of his death.

In the first case, the church was often illegal, had no buildings, no full New Testament Scriptures, no professional leadership, no ‘seeker sensitive’ services, no youth work, no professional worship leaders…it was hard to join the church

So what were the special elements of thsee Church movements that allowed this growth to happen? Hirsch refers to the combination of qualities as ‘Apostolic Genius’, which is made up of ‘Missional DNA’, of which more, later.

What’s the problem with successful, contemporary attractional Churches? Hirsch notes a number of challenges they face:

• However well thought out and presented programs may be, they reach a limited audience. The book refers to Australian research suggesting contemporary growing churches are attractive to only 10-15% of the population.
• He believes that the main reason for the lack of sustained long-term growth is the inability to consistently make church members into disciples.
• Further, there is a huge danger in consumerism in church – a ‘get fed’ culture – the middle classes seeking comfort and convenience. Typically only 5%-20% of members, even in successful contemporary churches are actively involved in any form of leadership.

Hirsch suggests the root of the problem might be traced back to the original official “sanction” of Christianity, in Constantine’s Edict of Milan (AD313). Christianity’s adoption as Rome’s official religion began the Christendom Shift and the institutionalization of faith. This may have ‘worked’ when Christianity was the dominant religion…at times attendance was obligatory, indeed everyone was considered ‘Christian by birth’.

But now we live in a fractured / tribalised society, so that the Church’s domestic role has become like mission to another culture. And the majority simply does not see the institutionalized Church as relevant.

Crossing these barriers will require us to develop a new church story, confronting the challenges of disciple-making and consumerism and transforming our relationships with the world.

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Forgotten Church?

When we moved to Harrogate, we felt it was the right time (a ‘Kairos moment’) to step out from our previous Church experience. We’d all benefited so much from St George’s in Leeds – indeed Liz and I met there! But, having taken the decision to move a few miles up the road, we also chose to take a new step in our journey of faith. Which lead us to St Mary’s.

We arrived at a time of transition; having lost its traditional buildings and with a new leader, we were challenged to look for new ways of doing church. To re-focus on where we believe God is leading us.

As I’ve been thinking around Church, one of the books that has really helped has been ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch. In it Hirsch considers whether the western church as we know it, in various forms, will suffice, or if we should learn from other examples.

Hirsch does not dismiss the traditional ‘attractional’ model of church, but clearly believes it has its limitations, in particular in reaching beyond a relatively narrow cultural range of people. He suggests that we should learn from dramatic examples of growth, in particular churches in the New Testament and, more recently, in China.

This is not the place for a detailed resume of Hirsch’s arguments, but in the next few posts, I will consider some key themes and ideas, which he suggests together form the DNA of a successful mission focused church.

The Heart of it All – JESUS IS LORD

Before moving on to consider 5 attributes of this missional DNA, Hirsch focuses on the Shema: ” Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and suggests that this should mean that God is Lord over every aspect of life, dethroning all other Gods.

There is a danger that, as individuals and as churches, our engagements with God and with the world are quite separate. Hirsch suggests that such dualistic expressions of faith result in polytheism – different gods ruling different spheres of our lives. Genuinely and effectively following Jesus must have a practical impact in all parts of our lives…including how we ‘do’ church!

I will jot down one or two more thoughts from ‘The Forgotten Ways’ over the next few days.

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All mixed up…a minor whinge.

Why is it that when I buy diesel for my car, it is priced per litre (just like the rest of Europe), but fuel economy figures are still quoted in miles per gallon, rather than litres / 100 km? Oh, and the road signs and speed limits are all in miles (per hour) too. How much does it cost me to drive the 60 miles to Manchester? An unnecessary stretch on my mental arithmetic!

Can’t we make the decision to properly metricate…or go back to poles, perches and chains. One way or the other, please! I suppose we could introduce a hybrid miles/ litre unit, just to confuse everyone even further.

Another measurement peculiarity…why do we measure electrical energy in kilowatt-hours? Surely this is Joules / second x 3600 seconds – a tautological unit if ever there was one.

Let’s raise a toast to simplicity.

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