Friday, March 08, 2013

Zen and the Art of Home-Education (or why we do what we do and don't hate everyone else!)



There is a stereotype home-educating family from the United States that seems to also exist here in the UK - the creationist parents of socially maladjusted children afraid of contamination by “the world”. In actual fact most home educating families in the UK are not church-goers.

However, we are Christians and that is part of our motivation for home educating, but not in the way people assume.

To make it quite clear at the beginning - whilst I believe that our decision is the right one for our children, I would never presume to expect others to make the same choice, and my wife and I would support our friends in whatever decision they choose to make for their children. In the same way, we would expect the same support for our decisions.

I believe that education is one of the great liberating opportunities in our society, and want to see children from all backgrounds given exposure to education that inspires then and also encourages intellectual aspiration. I don't see any one educational system or pedagogy as offering the solution - and as such I welcome innovations - whether from the political left or right - that force society to think outside of the current received wisdom on education.

My wife and I chose to home educate for many reasons (some of which I explain below), but we have never condemned anyone or suggested that they were wrong for not making the same decisions we have. However, I am amazed at just how negative some people are when they find out we home educate our children. These have included:

  • that we are somehow undermining the validity of teachers, especially Christians who believe they are called into teaching
  • that we are hurting local mission by not being ‘witnesses’ at the local school
  • that we see our children as ‘too good’ for the state school system
  • that we want to isolate our children from the world around them
  • that we are making it difficult and awkward for other parents when their children ask questions


More than anything you so often get the feeling that people wish we would just ‘fit in’ - that by choosing to home educate we make everyone’s life difficult. 

It is this need for uniformity that probably concerns me more than anything else - as if Church should be a place where we all strive to be as normal as possible so we don’t put anyone from outside off. I have posted from the amazing book called ‘Colossians Remixed’ by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat before, but I want to return to that again as what they say in their platonic style question and answer section is still so important:

Q: Won't they end up being social misfits?
A: We hope so. Yes, social misfits, that's what we long for. May it be that we raise up a generation of social misfits, because to "fit into" this culture, to find your place of comfort in it, is to be accommodated to the empire. we have argued that this is precisely what this subversive little tract called Colossians is arguing against.


No matter how awkward and difficult it is, I am afraid that I don’t want to ‘fit in’ - if that means accommodating those things in our culture that stand in opposition to the foundational values of the gospel. I want my children to grow up questioning the very foundation and structure of of our culture - to see the false promises of the zeitgeist for what they are.

The attraction of the message of Jesus is not in its normality, in how much like other people we are, but in its difference - in the chance to offer an alternative way of living. The gospel should break the stupor and stultifying effects of both the consumer society and of statist passivity. The Gospel isn’t politically left or right - it is some entirely other.

So in the end, my wife and I chose to home educate because we believe it is the best way to help our children achieve their full potential. By that I don’t mean that they will get the best paid jobs or fulfil middle-class aspirations, but that they will find out who they are,  discover their innate gifts and talent and then use them for the good of other people in the world around them. I want them to grow up to be dissidents and trouble-makers, not good little consumers or passive subjects of an authoritative state.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Goodbye Christian Marketplace


In the summer of 1996 I was a mature student in Manchester trying to find a way to balance study, new parenthood and paying the rent. Looking for work that had something to do with my studies, could fit around lectures and that I might find interesting I saw a small advert in the Christian bookshop for an editorial assistant.

Little did I know that this would take me on a journey for the next six years that has informed much of my work and ministry since. 

The magazine was the European Christian Bookstore Journal - a somewhat pedestrian and old-fashioned monthly publication for the Christian book trade. Following some personnel issues I found myself editing the second issue I worked on, having never put a publication "to bed" before. I was plunged into a world an language I had never known before - Quark Express, Spot Colour, TIFF files, proofreading, solus advertising slots etc - and had to make decisions on the spot.

It was always clear to me that the magazine could really well, but needed updating ad redesigning completely, but the structures at the ECBJ offices meant this looked unlikely to happen. After a year of working hard o the magazine financial pressures meant I was forced to seek other work, and I thought that was the end of my time in Christian publishing.

However, in November 1999 ECBJ ceased publication and working with some good friends at Silver Fish Publishing we created a new magazine, Christian Bookseller that was full colour, well-designed and shaped its content around the changing face of Christian retailing in the UK. In fact, the changes prompted us to change the name to Christian Retailer quite soon afterwards.

When Silver Fish went out of business (having recently bought Renewal magazine and subsequently selling it to Premier Media Group/CCP where it merged with Christianity) I, along with a good friend Phil Whittall, formed a new company Sojourn Publications to continue with the idea of a good quality trade magazine - with funding from David Heron, then CEO of Premier. We named the new magazine Christian Marketplace and James Catford (now CEO of the Bible Society) was the wise guiding hand as our Chairman.

Magazines are a difficult business to make work, and at the end of a year I realised that a young family and a business just breaking even didn't go together, so we sold most of titles to Premier where Christian Marketplace has resided until this sad announcement. Phil Whittall was employed by Premier/CCP as editor, while I headed off to Zondervan, before Clem took over and did a great job.

I always wondered when the end would come - it seemed inevitable it would happen eventually - and I am sad to see it go. I remain proud of the fact that the title has lasted so long, providing encouragement and information for those dedicated to Christian retailing. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Fundamentalists

I am delighted to have a guest article by American writer and broadcaster Jerry Bowyer. This article was first published a few years ago upon publication of the final instalment of Harry Potter. With the release of the first part of the final movie, it seemed the right the time to give it a fresh airing ...

Warning this article contains spoilers.

KKLA is the largest Christian talk radio station in America. I hold a dubious record there – I am responsible for causing the largest number of complaint calls the station had ever gotten in a single day. The topic? Harry Potter.


The Bowyers love Harry Potter: the novels, the movies, the video games, the midnight bookseller parties, we’re game for any of it. It didn’t start that way; ten years ago my mother wanted to give Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to one of my girls as a Christmas gift. “No way,” I said. “We don’t do witches and wizards here.”


A couple of years later my mother-in-law asked the same question. By then I’d become a little less rock-ribbed and quite a bit more disillusioned with the religious right wing of the conservative movement. Gracie loved the books and started sharing the story with me. As I noticed more and more references to classical and medieval literature my guard started to fall.


Eventually I went to see the movie version with my whole family. When I left the theatre, I knew two things: first, that I had been an ignorant blow-hard. This wasn’t Wiccan propaganda: it was standard-issue fairy tale magic like Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz. Second, that Joanne Rowling had spent a great deal of time immersed in The Greats – the long line of literary masterpieces that range from The Lord of the Rings and Narnia back through Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, the Arthurian Legends, the Church Fathers, the Scriptures themselves, and into the best of the pre-Christian Greek classics. In other words, Rowling was one of us.


Not long after that, I got to know John Granger and his book, The Key to Harry Potter, and I knew that I was not alone.


So I shared what I had learned with the radio audience. Harry is a lot of things. He’s a little bit Prince Harry forced to grow into the great warrior Henry V. He’s a lot more of the young Arthur, taken from his family at a young age, forced to live under the neglectful care of an inferior family, kept in the shadows of a bullying older adopted brother and unaware of his great origins. Eventually he is mentored by a great wizard (for young Wart, that’s Merlin; for Harry, it’s Dumbledore – a member of the Order of Merlin). Both lead quests to find a cup. Both (spoiler alert here- and from now on) end up procuring a great sword out of a lake in order to proceed with the quest.


I’m afraid the Arthur stuff doesn’t do much for many American evangelicals, though. It’s a little too British for Americans, plus it smells suspiciously Roman Catholic to a lot of Evangelicals. While I got lots of appreciative remarks, I didn’t make much headway with the fire breathers.


Next I tried the more recognizable Christian material. In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Harry confronts Voldemort (whose name means “will to death”) by traveling down into a great cavern where he slays a serpent to win an (eventual) bride. He fatally wounds the serpent in the head. He’s rescued by a bird who descends upon him and the bride, a kind of bird whose “tears have healing powers, and who are able to bear immense loads.” The bird bears them up out of the cavern. “There, how’s that?” I thought. The problem is that very few Christians seem to be aware of descendit ad infernum, the descent into hell. Don’t the schools teach Dante? Don’t the Churches teach the Apostle’s Creed? Well, as a matter of fact, no, they generally do not. The Proto Evangelium, the first gospel in which God told Adam and Eve that He would send Someone who would rescue their descendents by crushing the head of the serpent doesn’t seem to get a lot of play either.


I could go on for page after page: snippets from ancient hymns and creeds for instance. The most powerful spell in Harry’s world is the Patronus, in which the wizard forcefully says “Expecto Patronum”. That’s Christian Latin for “I look for the Savior”. Expecto is used in the Nicene Creed, and Patronum is used in the medieval Dies Irae as the Savior that we look for in the day of judgment. Harry uses the spell when ghastly evil spiritual beings called DEMENtors (caps mine) attack him and another innocent man near a lake. A stag (which just happens to function as a common Christ figure in medieval art) walks across the water dispelling the vile soul-destroying creatures. What’s it take, a 2 by 4 across the forehead? This is Christian stuff!


Well, the 2 by 4 has arrived and it’s called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In it, Harry learns that the evil Voldemort has broken his soul into shards and used those shards to possess certain objects. These are called Horcruxes. One of them is a ring (Lord of the Rings fans should find this a little familiar) and as long as the object is not destroyed the ‘Dark Lord’ cannot be destroyed either. Well it turns out that one of those soul shards in imbedded in a scar in Harry’s forehead and Harry comes to understand that the only way the evil can be destroyed is for Harry to willingly give up his life. In order to save his friends at Hogwarts School (which we learn in book 7 reminds Harry of a church) and particularly his friend Hagrid (whose name is suspiciously similar to Hagioi, which is Greek for Saints) he must allow himself to be killed by the dark lord. He makes a long walk through a wood in which he stumbles (Via Dolorosa, anyone?) all the while being encouraged by a vision of his deceased mother Lily.


This might be a good time to tell you that the Lily is often used as a symbol for Mary, the mother of Jesus, in medieval literature. I have an album in my musical collection of exceptionally beautiful hymns about Jesus and Mary, called The Lily and the Lamb. Harry goes ‘as a sheep to the shearer’ to Voldemort, where he is killed. There he meets his old mentor Dumbledore (old English for bumblebee, a medieval symbol for wisdom based on Psalm 119). While Dumbledore explains it all, the great white cloud in which Harry finds himself begins to take the shape of a familiar train station. The station’s name is King’s Cross, which is also the title of that particular chapter of the book. Harry is given the choice of going ‘on’ or going back to save his people. Harry goes back and finds that since he willingly gave his life for the people of Hogwarts, Voldemort’s curses no longer bind them. Voldemort, then, is destroyed (by his own hand in an attempt to kill Harry again) and the various races and houses of Hogwarts celebrate in a great feast, in which they ignore the walls and divisions which had theretofore separated them.


Since this book has been published I have not seen a single apology to JK Rowling from any of the various fundamentalist bashers. She’d been accused of atheism (she’s an Anglican) and of being a witch (she knows nothing at all about the occult or Wicca).


Why no apologies to the lady? First, it’s always tough to say you’re sorry. But deeper than that, I think the problem is that so much of the religious right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so little Christianity itself. Yes, there are a few ‘memory verses’ from Saint Paul, and various evangelical habits like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and the alter call. However the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of American Christendom, including its leaders.


Seven years ago, Joanne Rowling was asked whether she is a Christian. Her answer:

“Yes I am. Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

For once, I disagree with her: I don’t think they would have guessed the ending. Most of them can’t recognize the ending of the story even after it’s been told.


Oh, I almost forgot the radio station. Terry Fahy, the General Manager of KKLA, told me that he’d like to have me on the station again. So, you see, there are signs of hope after all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New business website

Bit of a boring post, but I thought you might be interested in my new business website for Matthews & Owen (the trading name for my consultancy). It was pretty simply done with iWeb and hosted on MobileMe: www.matthewsandowen.com.

I am going to be running a blog on there looking at issues around publishing, media, films and communications (especially new and digital media). Please feel free to add it to your RSS reader (such as Google Reader). Matthews & Owen Blog. Here is the latest post:

Friday, 20 August 2010

Will screens rather than page be the way we read in the future. Kevin Kelly from the Smithsonian magazine thinks so.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Raising dazed out, stupefied kids

I have been thinking a lot about why we made the decision to home educate recently. My wife and I have been reviewing our family mission statement and vision, I had a good and very provoking conversation with an old friend about this subject, and one of my current roles is the national media spokesperson for Education Otherwise.

We are both convinced that, in the end, the educational decision a family make for their kids is their own decision, and that it isn't right for anyone - an individual, a church, pressure groups or the state - to compel educational conformity upon people (the problem of neglect, abuse or similar problems notwithstanding). Actually, I think the ideal would be small, community-based educational cooperatives run through a blend of parental involvement and employed teachers, where parents are intimately involved in the philosophy and overall direction, as well as the pastoral things.

However, one of the books that came up when my wife and I were discussing these things was the excellent Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat. In that they discuss their decision to home education in a question and answer format. Here are some of their thoughts:

Q: So what's the alternative? Are you saying that we all have to send out children to Christian schools?

A: Actually, we believe we need to rethink the whole notion of schooling - Christian or otherwise. Our question is this: if it is true that schooling is an institution of the modernist progress myth and is preoccupied with quantification, testing, standardization, passivity, docility and consumption resulting in a dazed, numbed-out, stupefied, disinterested, disempowered and unmotivated population of unthinking consumers, then why are Christians playing this educational game of schooling at all?

...

And insofar as Christian schools are applauded in our society for producing fine, middle class, hardworking and hard-consuming citizens, we are not sure they are providing much of an alternative.

Q: Won't they end up being social misfits?

A: We hope so. Yes, social misfits, that's what we long for. May it be that we raise up a generation of social misfits, because to "fit into" this culture, to find your place of comfort in it, is to be accommodated to the empire. we have argued that this is precisely what this subversive little tract called Colossians is arguing against.

But no, it is not a matter of isolationism. The issue here is not to isolate our children from the world, but to expose them to the world through the liberating vision of a biblical worldview. Precisely where the powers that be don't want children to make connections, don't want them to really see, we want our children's eyes to be opened. We want our kids to see through the targeted advertising of McDonalds toys, games and playlands and recognize the manipulative come-ons that they are. We want them to see through the packaging and grease in order to see that the stuff being served is not food. We want our little girls to be offended, not enamoured, by Barbie's figure. We want them to know that while the news of war that they are constantly hearing on the radio and on the street makes them worry, there are other little girls in places like Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Colombia, Guatemala, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe who have to live with the daily fear of war in their neighbourhoods. We want them to think about the little girls who work in the fields producing cash crops or who slave in sweatshops producing cute clothes for little girls.

Provoking stuff.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

iPad review

I have the good fortune of being in possession of one the first iPads in the UK, courtesy of EGM Films, with whom I am working (check out the new film due out in September - Little Town of Bethlehem). A great opportunity - I'm not sure I could have justified paying the £499 myself if it wasn't for this.

So - my device is the 32gb Wifi version and I will be mainly using it for email, productivity, some surfing but mainly as a presentation device in meetings. Setting it up in iTunes is a simple process, and I liked the fact that it DOESN'T automatically sync all the music, videos and pictures, but allows you to choose. Even with 32gb, this would fill it up before I even get chance to use it.

Setting up email accounts was incredibly simple, and I was able to set up an exchange account, two IMAP email accounts and my Mobile Me account, which immediately synchronized my calendar and contacts onto the iPad.

I have had the chance to use the device on the road and in the office over the last two weeks, and wanted to divide up how I have used it:

On the Road

I spent most of last week travelling around the UK and Ireland - at an exhibition, in meetings and in hotel rooms. I have all the trailers and various other photos and videos related to my work with EGM, and was delighted how easy it was to pop the iPad on a stand and play the video, slideshow or presentation and talk through it. One of the days I left my laptop in the hotel to see if I could cope with just the iPad and had no problems. Answering emails was simple - the on-screen keyboard was clean and responsive, and taking notes during the meeting on there was great - this was later sync'd through iTunes and I could access them on my MacBook.

Battery life was impressive - I can get two full days of working through one charge and yet it only took a few hours to charge up through the USB cable to the MacBook.

In the office and home

This week is a week at home, and I spent some time looking at productivity tools on the iPad. I have decided to implement some of the principles in Getting things Done, and decided to use the Taska app to help with this. I can link tasks not only by project, but by using tags they can be linked across projects. For example, all of my different proposals or events can be viewed at the same time even though they are listed under different projects.

I found myself working on the MacBook but using the iPad as an extension, with notes and tasks available to refer to quickly which I found helpful. When I went out, I took the iPad - I had a church meeting and a coffee with someone - made notes on it and kept up with email - which is much easier to carry.

I also downloaded the Kindle app which gives access to the whole Amazon Kindle list. I downloaded a few samples to look at and it seems a good way to read reference and non-fiction stuff, but I wouldn't use it for novels or extended reading of several hours - except perhaps when travelling.

I was expecting to be annoyed by the lack of multi-tasking - you can only have one programme open at a time. However, things such as the web browser and mail keep running in the background and you can quickly switch between them.

Pros:

Great size and weight
Wonderful battery time
Efficient productivity tool
Clean interface
Good addition to a laptop
Useful Apps (recommend the iWork suite, Taska, Kindle as starters)

Cons:

Expensive - the edition I have is £499 on release
Not many apps provided 'out of the box'
Not all apps available in the UK app store (I assume this will change upon UK release)
Is it just more stuff?



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A plague on all their houses?

With moat cleaning, ex-ministers for sale, playing politics with the constitution and various other dirty activities this last parliament has to be one of the most disreputable in living memory. It is no wonder that there is an increasing tendency to write off politics and politicians as corrupt, useless and that 'they're all as bad as each other'. However, I see voting as a hard won right, and a privilege, and I take seriously the decision at every local and general election.

So - who to vote for this time. Rather than look at the personalities of both the local and national politicians, and rather than follow a party line, I wanted to make a decision based on the policies offered. Here are my thoughts so far:

The foundational issue for me is one of liberty - do the parties accept that that personal liberty - the freedom to choose how one should live within reasonable limits - is an essential value. This is the principle that was fought over from the Bill of Rights onwards, and forms an essential part of the British culture. Our constitutional arrangement is such that we are free to do whatever we like unless it is restricted for the greater good.

The consequence of this is that religious, political, social and moral beliefs should be beyond the scope of the state to interfere in, unless something brings harm to someone else.

That doesn't mean that I am an economic libertarian in the way that conservatives are - the economic dominance of global corporations is not something that should go unchecked. Rather, liberty is something that starts with the individual, progresses to families and communities, then to towns, cities and regions and then nationally. Power is granted upwards for the greater good, not dispensed downwards by an all-powerful state.

Education

This is a dominant issue for my wife and I as we home educate. The travesty that was the Badman report, and the heavy-handed state interference of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, was a perfect picture of a statist government - and I am thankful that the Tories and Lib Dems opposed that part of the bill during the 'wash up' last week.

I am impressed by the commitment of the Conservatives commitment to increasing innovation and localisation in education - the idea of educational cooperatives, locally run schools etc all very much appeal to me, although I am concerned that large organisations will dominate the academy bid process, especially for secondary education. However - this movement to local empowerment is definitely a step in the right direction.

Social Justice & families

I don't think any party is offering much that is revolutionary in the way of social justice this time - all parties seem to see putting kids into child-care (sure start) and getting everyone working full-time as the best way to increase social inclusion. I'm not so sure - structuring things so that more job-shares are possible, and using tax credits to enable those whose kids are most likely to fall victim to their social environment to have a parent at home post of the time would surely be better. For single parents this is a bigger issue than economics (although the need to work there is a given), and it isn't a simple issue. But surely government compelling parents to abandon their kids to day-care at 12 months old or lose their benefits is short-sighted and lacking the kind of imaginative thinking I thought Labour were going to give us when they appointed Frank Field in 1997, but sacked him pretty soon afterwards.

Global issues are barely featuring in this election - although I think all parties are committed to preserving the international development funding.

Defense

Both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to maintaining our nuclear weapons, so here I would support the Lib Dem position - that money can be much better spent.

Economy

After Labour's false promises of 'no more return to boom and bust', the promise that we would weather the economic storm well, their poor handling of city regulation, their slight of hand in using PFI to keep public debt off the balance sheet and their refusal to deal with spiralling public sector borrowing have all proved Gordon Brown's inability to deal with the economy in a responsible manner.

However, I have to admit that as all parties are fundamentally committed to global free-market capitalism as an absolute value I'm not sure there is much to choose here. The Tories will probably make some painful decision that may be the right ones (and as they are not financially beholden to unions can probably tackle public sector militancy better).

The Lib Dem position on personal taxation is one I support in helping people on low-paid jobs. Raising the the tax allowance to £10K is a great idea, and the most radical of the three parties. But, the influence of Philip Blond, and his Red Tory ideas of local economy, on David Cameron are the most attractive to me as they have the potential to change the very economic fabric of the country along the lines laid out by Belloc and Chesterton back last century.

On a local level, I think that, after a stuttering start, Daniel Kawczynski has done an excellent job regardless of his political allegiances. John Tandy, the Labour candidate is a bit too 'union' for me. The Lib Dem candidate, Charles West, looks like a good bloke, but is he good enough to unseat a good incumbent (and is it telling that he is the only one I had to google to remember his name)?

These are all the hot issues for me. I don't have any particular party affiliation, and I was determined to try and make a decision based firmly on policies this year. It still isn't easy, and I will be listening hard over the next few weeks to what the candidates say and do.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Martin Smith interview

Just posted the second part of my interview with Martin Smith on Everything Christian. I realy enjoyed it - he has some interesting things to say about worshipping in front of thousands of people, consumerism and the value of worship:

When we worship God we find out who we are. You find yourself looking in a mirror on a regular basis, “Is this the person I am? I need to change this. I need a redesign. I need salvation. I need forgiveness.” Worshipping God is amazing because you connect with someone extraordinary, someone eternal and you see yourself in that light.

Click here.

Part 1 is also available here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Atheist Billboard kids: “children of Christians”

Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondent at the Times offered a humourous take on the latest advertising campaign by the British Humanist Society, and fronted by scientist-turned-atheist-campaigner Richard Dawkins. It turns out that the children featured in the advert were children of a former drummer for worship leader Noel Richards and attend a Newfrontiers church. The BHA were rattled enough to issue a response here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arrogance, Ignorance, Greed


Tonight my wife and I are looking forward to seeing Show of Hands playing here in Shrewsbury. Beforehand I am interviewing them for Everything Folk.

The title track of their lates album is getting a lot of press attention and airplay, Arrogance, Ignorance, Greed (AIG) - a broadside at bankers and politicians with lines such as:
At every trough you stop to feed
With your arrogance, your ignorance and greed

Here is the video




Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything Christian

I know I only announced a new blog yesterday, but this one is much more personal. Below is the actual press release:

Press Release


Launch of new Christian news and opinion portal, Everything Christian.


Today marked the formal launch of a new national web portal for Christian news and opinion, www.everythingchristian.co.uk. The new site will include the latest news from the UK and around the world, plus inspiring devotions and opinion from many of those at the cutting edge of ministry in the UK and beyond. The site aims to embrace the hallmarks of the culture change in the last few years, and collaboration and community will be central to the future of the project, including the opportunity for user-generated content.


The site is edited by Ian Matthews, who has worked for more than a decade in Christian publishing. He said, "The way we interact, communicate, debate and inform each other has changed beyond measure over the course of this decade. Our aim at Everything Christian is to be a place where both the content and the way of communicating reflects the church and the culture in which we find ourselves." He continued, "I am excited to be launching the site with a two-part interview with the former Delirious? front-man Martin Smith in which he looks at his time with Delirious, his passion for worship and social justice, and just what the future might hold. In addition, we have a wide range of devotionals, opinion pieces and other inspiring articles planned for the coming days and weeks, as well as regular news and product reviews. We will be launching specific sections devoted to subjects such as politics, mission, church in the community and worship - and starting this section with a series of articles on worship from around the globe written by Carrie Tedder from Worship Planet, a regular worship band at Spring Harvest. We also have an excellent article from Gerard Kelly on Twitter as a spiritual discipline coming in the next week."


As Everything Christian is encouraging an open approach to content, it is not only welcoming news releases, products and other information for inclusion, but is also encouraging readers to submit articles and news items for inclusion. All items concerning news or reviews should be emailed to news@everythingchristian.co.uk; for any features or to submit an article please email features@everythingchristian.co.uk. The editor can be contact on ian@everythingchristian.co.uk.


It would be really appreciated if you could pass this on to let others know, and if you have any ideas for content, do please let me know!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Steve Chalke's Apprentice Tour

A bit of an advert here really, but I am managing a tour by Steve Chalke that starts tomorrow in London based on the 2009 Spring Harvest theme and the book that Zondervan released called Apprentice: Walking the way of Christ, with Diane Louise Jordan and Cathy Burton.

Anyway - a blog has been set up for it at www.apprenticetour.blogspot.com, so please do take a look. Should have stuff from Steve, Cathy and other people appearing over the next few weeks.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Eden and the high street

On-line retailer Eden recently launched an ambitious and audacious offer, giving Christians around the UK the chance to give £3 vouchers to all their friends. I cannot find a link to it, as it was an email offer to their customers. When I read it my initial thought was 'wow ... good move - great marketing'. Perhaps because I do not own or manage a Christian bookshop I didn't have the same reaction as Phil Groome, manager of LST bookshop and Christian bookshop uber-blogger who said,

Eden.co.uk threw down a gauntlet to the rest of the Christian book trade by claiming that their customers were more interested in range, availability and convenience than price. Their latest marketing ploy seems to mark something of a U-turn in attitude: a £15,000 gift voucher giveaway to church leaders to “encourage [their congregations] to read and/or share more Christian literature, music or resources.”



I think Phil is mistaken in seeing this as a U-turn. Customers may be more interested in things other than price, but price is still a good revenue driver - especially a voucher (which has a psychological impact that regular discounting doesn't). Gareth Mullholland, owner of Eden, isn't saying that price doesn't matter, but that Eden has a USP that is more than just that. Clearly, price is part of the mix.

Phil's main response, though, is good:

It’s a great idea that could certainly generate significant sales for Eden, but will do little to help generate footfall in local Christian bookshops — unless we rise to the challenge as I have done at LST: We will accept Eden’s £3 Gift Vouchers.


Well done - that is the response. I think the attitude I have come across with some Christian retailers, where they see a particular town as if it is their 'right' to be the high street witness there is outdated, wrong-headed and fails to take account of a changing culture in which we live. A Christian bookshop, which is a just a shop, is NOT a witness on the high street, it is a shop that most non-churched people will never go in. You do get the odd great testimony, but the occasional encounter does not justify the cost, expense and effort involved in keeping a shop on the high street.

It can work, and work well if the sub-conscious expectations on people today are taken into account. Rather than assuming that people, and churches, will come to you out of some sense of geographical duty, the shop that will thrive is one that understands that relationships, networks, peer-reviews and community drive successful ventures today. For example:

  • The obvious - a coffee chop. A good one with proper coffee (with the various types, sizes, syrups etc), sweet snacks - perhaps sandwiches from the local deli?
  • Customer reviews and ratings on the shelves, and in the email shots to customers
  • Reader reviews and sample copies on the coffee tables
  • A web site that is as much a blog as it is a retail site - let people say what they want
  • Suggestions on products to order, books missed etc
  • Find out why books failed - ask the customers
  • Vouchers in the local church newsletters (perhaps tied to the preaching series?)
  • Weekly top-10 voted books
  • Customer feedback forms (5 questions rated 1 - 10 that can be filled in in 2 minutes and put in a box) to find out if customer service, product range, in-store layout all work


If my calculations are correct I reckon that Eden are making an average of about £1 on every book they sell through this promotion. There is nothing stopping a Christian bookshop taking vouchers for their shop along to every church in their area and putting the vouchers in the hands of the members - the personal touch will have even more impact!

I think Eden have every right to take every opportunity they can to bring customers to their website, and good luck to them - there are about 3.5 million regular church-goers in the UK with only a fraction going into their local bookshop. They are not responsible for the decline in Christian bookshops, the problems run far deeper than that.

In the future I think that Christian bookshops will be either community destinations where people WANT to come to (they won't come for long if it is seen as a duty), or more closely supported by or located in larger churches (and you could have three or four of these in a large city each serving a different constituency). Anything that falls in-between won't last, and perhaps, doesn't deserve to.



Saturday, September 05, 2009

Blogging - why I do it (or don't a lot of the time)

I started this blog almost 5 years ago now (October 2004), and have had periods of activity and many months of inactivity. Part of my problem is that I have never seen this as a priority, and when life gets busy out goes the blogging. However, I have made some good friends and met (virtually) some really interesting people.

I generally only get 30 -40 unique visitors a week on this site (with the post below removed from the stats) - mainly because I haven't worked hard at getting external links and building traffic. However, one post of mine bucks this trend completely, even though it is now 2 years old, Porn Stars, Womanhood and the wallpaper of our lives. I probably get 15 - 20 hits a day on this one post, mainly referred from Google searches for pornography (including some deeply disturbing and very illegal searches). Hopefully it will make an occasionally visitor stop and think.

Earlier this year I started a political blog, The Digger, but have stopped for now after finding the whole political blogging environment utterly negative and disheartening. Maybe I'll have more stomach for it soon.

My latest venture is Everything Folk, a news and reviews site for another passion of mine, roots and folk music. I decided to do this one differently, and wanted to learn more about the technical side of blogging, so I am hosting this one with Wordpress and am now going about the process of learning to use this incredibly flexible piece of software. I started it as I saw a gap - there wasn't really a blog about the current growth of interest in this area (outside of BBC and Guardian sites which are updated every week or so). We'll see how it goes, but please do go and pay it a visit - you may see something you actually quite like!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

New Wine - personal reflections

Having survived a six-hour car journey (with an hour in a traffic jam in a service station!), waterlogged camping ground on arrival, rain, digging, mud, mouldy clothes, and 10,000 Christians packed onto the Bath and West Showground, Team Matthews is finally safe and sound in Shrewsbury after a week at New Wine.

For those who don't know, New Wine is (or was - see below) a network for church leaders keen to balance 'word and spirit', and who want to transform their churches and their local communities "by the power of the Spirit". Since the 1980's they have also ran a conference during the summer with worship and teaching. The movement's roots go back to the early collaboration between John Wimber and Anglican minister David Pytches (now Bishop).

Overall Impression

This was the first time I had gone to New Wine, and apart from a couple of Spring Harvests for work, the first 'bible week' since Stoneleigh in 2001 - where it rained all week and we camped with a 3 year old and a 10 week old!! So off we set with Caravan, Awning, food for 4 days and a GPS unit.

We were heading down a day early on the Saturday, and following six hours on the road with a grumpy 3 year old, including the service station above and an hour stuck in Bristol, we finally arrived after a day full of rain to be greeted with a waterlogged and muddy campsite. I think Mrs M was ready to go home right then, especially when we were told to camp "wherever we could find a dry bit". Located our church group in the chaos created by lack of supervision, found what looked like a level bit of ground that wasn't just mud and proceeded to set things up. New Vicar turned up at the same time, with a trailer tent they had been 'blessed' with and myself, Vicar, his wife and fellow church-member Martin spent the next two hours trying to make sense of a 20-year old collection of bent poles, chipboard and leaking canvas. They felt so blessed by that gift!!!!

Woke up Sunday morning and then watched about a million cars create the perfect water drain direct to our campsite (at the bottom of the hill) as they drove through our bit to get to their areas AT THE TOP OF HILL. You can guess what happened later in the week.

What happened?

For the main morning and evening sessions there were two option. 'Venue 1' - the larger marquee (about 5,000 at my guess) - which had what could be called 'mainstream' worship mainly by the Trinity Cheltenham team led by Neil Bennets (although David Ruis also did some sessions) and 'Venue 2' which was supposed to be the more contemporary venue. This was pretty much given over to Trent Vineyard and was hosted by them and 'Trent' led all the worship. It wasn't so much more contemporary and a bit louder and with a tighter band doing more of their own material. Still - it was very good!

Opening session in Venue 2 (my choice that night) was an absolutely storming sermon by Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology at St Aldates, Oxford (an old church of mine in David McInnes days). Based on 1 Chronicles 12, he argues that that the church is in a war and should be living like that - engaging in acts that push forward the kingdom of God - His justice, peace and love. Obviously he emphasised the spiritual aspect of this, but it was a masterclass in preaching, taking scripture, contemporary issues facing the church and popular culture (nice bit of post-modern intertextual criticism with Lord of the Rings). If you want a great book on Revelation and the end-times that debunks a lot of the silly 'left behind' stuff, and takes seriously resurrection on a new earth then I would recommend his And The Lamb Wins.

The morning sessions were more bible study focused, with just a short time of worship. Mrs M and I put our youngest into his group and attended the 'Venue 1' series working through Proverbs, called 'Everything Your Parents Should Have Told You (but probably didn't)' by Ohio Vineyard pastor and Jewish convert Rich Nathan. It was excellent - simple biblical insight on wisdom, children, sex, money etc. I only went to one other evening session as we were sharing kiddie duty, and this was also by Rich Nathan.

There was a whole range of seminars to choose form, with leadership, mission, spirituality, relationships and worship 'tracks'. I chose a series by David Mitchell (not of Mitchell and Webb fame I was sad to discover!) from Woodlands church in Bristol. He, along with his family and 23 other people live in a big house in a residential community, and I was really hoping to get to grips with what they were doing, how it worked (and didn't), and to be inspired to get serious about these issues myself. Sad it was all a bit rambling and disorganised - my seminar companion from church and myself left feeling more frustrated than enlightened.

The Camping

Aahh - the camping! As mentioned, the ground was flooded when we arrived, and rain on the Tuesday meant that there was six inches of standing water all over our area of the campsite. I woke up Wednesday morning to a flooded Awning, and another family found their 2-year-old asleep and freezing cold in a pool of water. Suitcases had been waterlogged, tents flooded, and the ground was a quagmire. The site site were exceedingly unhelpful at this point, and we just had to make a plan to move the tents that needed moving, dry stuff out and help each other out.

A team from New Wine arrived in the afternoon and we dug trenches and pumped around 1,000 gallons of water off our site. The problem was that all the water from the showground was passing our way and the track created by the cars on the Sunday helped direct it just to our door! However, this was a great time of bonding and fellowship, and working with other brothers and sisters to get it done was, in the end, the highlight of the event for me.

Overall Impressions

The Good
  • Good new songs from David Ruis, Trent, Trinity Cheltenham, David Gates and Jonny Parks.
  • Fine teaching in the morning.
  • Wonderful community on our site - I got to do a years worth of relationship building in a week.
  • The kids work - just fantastic. So well thought through - a focus on the Kingdom from the pre-school to the 10-11 year olds. They loved it, so I am happy.
  • Generosity - just under £90K was taken in the offering this week (plus similar amounts in the other two weeks).
  • Good to see a spectrum of the church in one place
The Bad

  • Poor organisation on-site. Few resources to deal with the weather - not enough sand bags, bark chip, pallets/duck board, or even attention!
  • Too many Americans & non-Anglicans. There was only one Church-of-England main stage speaker, and only two British ones during the whole week. This isn't a criticism of US speakers (I spent 5 years persuading us 'Brits' to read them more!) or movements outside of the C-of-E (goodness know that we need to hear what God is saying through everyone), but as a UK-based, predominantly Anglican network it would be better to hear more of what is happening in the UK, and biblical exegesis rooted in what we are doing.
  • Too many 'stories', not enough Bible in the evening meetings.
  • Worship too predictable. Unless you were willing to stay up to listen to a DJ spin worship at 'after hours', then all you got was the usual guitar/keyboard bands playing a variant on rock/pop music for 20 - 45 minutes before a sermon, as if that is the biblical way! As the uniting aspect of New Wine is a Charismatic/Evangelical axis, what about: Celtic liturgy, contemplative spirituality, Franciscan worship, Taize, Messy Church and all the other ways people are exploring charismatic worship.

Final thought

I had one final thought that has left me a bit disquieted. In a video presentation before one of the offerings, John Coles the director of New Wine made this statement: "New Wine is no longer a network - it is a movement" and emphasised the shift with things such as the new theological training (at undergraduate and post-graduate) as evidence of this. In talking with friends the consensus is that New Wine is positioning itself for a split in the C-of-E. I think that in doing it this it will be encouraging the split to happen. I also think that it may be over-estimating the number of churches that would be wiling to jump ship into the 'lifeboat' of New Wine, especially when the commitment to the Anglican way of doing worship, mission and ministry seems to be in the process of being pushed back at the New Wine public event.

However, the event as it stands was a great opportunity to fellowship, worship and learn from those who are both teachers and practitioners from all over the world. And the biggest thing I take away from this is that my heart has been softened a little and I have fallen more in love with Jesus again - that cannot be denied and makes it all worthwhile, even the mud!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A New Blog

I just wanted to let you know about a new blog - The Digger. This is (currently) an anonymous blog where I am trying to explore some of the political issues from a libertarian-left position.

Just wanted to let you know in case you are interested.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Allotment heaven!

I am now the proud tenant of a half-plot in the local allotment site just near my house. Dreams of endless potatoes, carrots, parsnips, shallots, beans, peas etc now fill my imagination ...


Of course the reality will probably be far from this, especially in the beginning. For now, we are sharing the site with our neighbours (who are now also on the waiting list), making it more manageable - essential when you look at how the plot was when we started out.




So we have spent the last week turning this into something usable, and trying to do it without resorting to chemicals. Of course, child labour helped!


The chance to run an allotment is one I have wanted for quite a while. As well as a tiny step towards self-sufficiency, it offers good vegetables and fruit at a good price, fresh air, exercise, space for the kids to discover things of nature and opportunity to connect with other people in my community.

I am sure I will post here on how things are going!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Following Jesus Doesn't Work

Greg Boyd is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. His book last year, Myth of a Christian Nation was one of the surprise successes over here in the UK (for a book so focused on the US). In this article he starts by recounting the story of a woman he encountered:

I met a middle aged woman one day who told me she had given up on Christianity. “It just didn’t work for me,” she said. My response was: “What on earth made you think Jesus was supposed to work for you? The truth is that you were supposed to work for him.”

The language we use so often betrays us, as it did here. He continues:

It seems that many assume Jesus is supposed to be our personal magical genie who grants our wishes, at least some of the time. Such a magical view of faith is catastrophic, for people abandon what they thought was the Christian faith when it doesn’t work. And worse, people think they’re embracing the Christian faith when it does.

OUCH!

How often have I silently thought this. If I pray enough, give enough, do enough good works etc then life will be okay. If I care about the poor enough I will always have a home for my children. In the end, Jesus does not promise these things - at least when you look at the experience of those who follow God in Scripture. Greg points out the experiences of Mary, the mother of Jesus (who despite being 'favoured' had to watch her son crucified and die a painful death) and John the Baptist, left to languish in prison and suffer some serious doubts.

We, here in the western church, seem to expect an easy life as a 'right', conveniently forgetting scriptures such as,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Tim 6:8)

Greg expresses it this way:
To follow Jesus authentically is to die to everything the flesh-self holds dear, whether we actually lose them or not. We must die to the quest to avoid of pain and inconvenience; die to the quest for pleasure, power and fame; die to the security of our homes, family, friends and nation; and even die to the certainty of our opinions. Every attempt to gain a personal sense of worth, significance and security by what we do, what we accomplish, what we acquire and who we impress must die.

In the end, to follow Jesus is to lose my life. I would like to do that - I just sometimes wonder if I can.

Jesus commands this much, not because he is mean, but because he is more profoundly in love with us than we could possibly ever imagine. And he knows that it is this false, self-centered way of living that is keeping us from true life. When we have truly died, we discover this. To be free from the self that is addicted to the question: What’s in it for me? is to be truly ALIVE and free.

It is to enter into the kingdom of God.

But, as Jesus always taught, you can only find this life if you complete loose your life.
If you’re focusing on this life, here and now, following Jesus doesn’t “work” and we should stop telling people that it does. But if we’ll die to the attempt to make things “work” for us, we’ll discover a deeper LIFE that no longer cares about what does and doesn’t work for us. We’ll discover the LIFE of the Kingdom.

I couldn't say it any better myself - I only hope I can live it!

What are we here for?

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