Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Resisting the Empire

There is an interesting tradition within Jewish biblical interpretation call the Targum. This phrase, originally taken from the Aramaic translations of the Jewish scriptures and still used in this way, came to mean the blending of interpretation, translation and application of scripture.

In their book Colossians Remixed Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat apply this principle to various passages of the book of Colossians. Their main thesis in the book is that Paul wrote this letter to encourage believers to not be seduced by the values of the Roman empire and all it stood for, and that we should also do the same now with whatever worldly 'empire' dominates the ideas and practices today.

Their argument is that the empire we live under is that of global consumerism, and that the imperial nature can be seen through the oppression, commodotization and brutalization of people and the world. From this starting point they create a targum from Colossians 2:8 – 3:4. Here is a selection from that, bearing in mind that this is a blend of translation, interpretation and application:

Make sure that no one takes your imaginations captive through a vacuous vision of life rooted in an oppresive regime of truth that parades itself as something other than mere human tradition, as if it somehow had access to final and universal truth about the world apart from Christ.


In him you find your legitimacy, your entrance into the covenantal community, because in relation to himyour real problem – a deeply rooted sinfulness manifest in violence and self-protective exclusion – is addressed and healed.


Don't forget that you were once dead too – dead in the dead-end way of life that characterizes our cannibalistic and predatory culture. But now you are dead to that way of life, and God has made you alive with Christ by dealing with the real problem through radical forgiveness. You see, when the idolatrous power structures that bolster this oppressive regime nailed Jesus to the cross and poured out their fury on him, all of your debts were nailed there too. All of the ways the empire of death held you captive and robbed you of life – the exhausting and insatiable imperative to consume, the bewildering cacophony of voices calling out to us in the post-modern carnival ... the masturbatory self-indulgence of linguistic and societal games .. all of this is nailed to the cross.

Let's not beat around the bush here. What is at stake in this conflict at the cross is indeed a power struggle. And Jesus takes precisely the principalities and powers that placed him on the cross – the idols of militarism, nationalism, racism, technicism, economism – and on that very cross disarms, dethrones, conquers, and makes public example of them.


If all of this is true then, don't allow the front-men of these vanquished powers to tell you what to eat and drink. Don't buy into the simulated grocery stores made to remind shoppers of an era when shopping was more integral to community life. Don't be duped by advertising that tells you that various products are indispensable to constructing certain images and personas. This is all crap. They are still trying to captivate your imagination, to suck you into a globalistic regime of homogeneous consumption. Resist this McWorld nightmare with all the strength you have! Avoid the Disneyization of your consciousness. This stuff has no substance to it, no being ... but in Christ we find substance


If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in iron grip of its ideological vision? Why do you submit yourselves to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn and the environment? ... Don't you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rejecting the Empire

Having ignored my blog for a couple of months whilst seriously working through some of the issues that the community conversation has provoked (more on that later!), I am back.

I went to the Faithworks Conference last week, and got to spend some time with Shane Claiborne and Brooke Sexton from the Simple Way community - always a great time (I hadn't seen them since we shared a grotty chalet at the Skegness Spring Harvest 18 months ago). Shane led a great seminar as well, which he concluded with this great prayer that he encourage people there to join in with:

With governments that Kill…we will not comply.
With the theology of Empire…we will not comply.
With the business of Militarism…we will not comply.
With the hoarding of Riches…we will not comply.
With the dissemination of Fear…we will not comply.

But today, we pledge our ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God…we pledge allegiance.

To the peace that is not like Rome’s…we pledge allegiance.
To the gospel of enemy love…we pledge allegiance.
To the kingdom of the poor and the broken…we pledge allegiance.
To the king who loved his enemies so much He died for them…we pledge allegiance.
To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells…we pledge allegiance.
To the transnational Church that transcends that artificial borders of nations…we pledge allegiance.
To the Refugee of Nazareth…we pledge allegiance.
To the homeless Rabbi who had no place to lay His head…we pledge allegiance.
To the Cross rather than the Sword…we pledge allegiance.
To the Banner of Love above any flag…we pledge allegiance.
To the One who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist…we pledge allegiance.
To the One who rides a donkey rather than a war horse…we pledge allegiance.
To the Revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free…we pledge allegiance.
To the Way that leads to Life…we pledge allegiance.
To the Slaughtered Lamb…we pledge allegiance.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…Amen.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What is Community?

There have been some great discussions in recent days over at Matt Hosier's blog about just what Christian community looks like. A general feeling of dissatisfaction was felt by most commentators, and a deep feeling that the way we live in the west is not all there is, or even a particularly good way to live.

I have seen this discussion widening more and more in both the UK and the US with blogs such as Matt, Tim Simmonds, Phil Whittall's ; groups on Facebook such as New Monasticism and the Irresistible Revolution and Another World is Possible; and provoking books such as School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. What I find interesting is the breadth of people talking about this - Anglicans, Methodists, Charismatics, Reformed - the whole breadth, uniting around the idea that it is possible to express Christ through community more than we are at the moment.

These things have been bubbling away inside me for a few years now, and are beginning to take a more solid shape. Here are some random thoughts:

  • Why do we all need to live in our own little boxes? Why can we not share housing - releasing resources, saving energy, creating a more open and welcoming envirnoment?
  • How can we make the shift form seeing possession as 'my stuff' and start seeing them as 'God's Stuff' and thus seeing them as 'Our Stuff' - holding things lightly and generously?
  • If the world cannot sustain the life of the average Briton when given to the whole population of the earth, should we not change our lifestyle to live more simply?
  • The Church could be a prophetic voice, living genuinely counter-culturally to show that a better world is possible, that we do not have to live selfish, consumer-driven lives.

This all feels like a lot of jumbled thoughts at the moment. Anyone want to join me in working out what it all means?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why Folk Music

We are off to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival this weekend - hurrah!!!! 4 days of great music, food, weird stalls (and smells!), workshops and Professor Panic's circus for the kids. I have been wondering - although I love a lot of music from many genres, folk music holds a particular appeal. Perhaps I should use the more acceptable word of 'roots' music as my interest is really in many form of traditional music from around the world - Cuban, African, blues, bluegrass etc.

However, as a resident of this Island I am particularly interested in the roots music of Britain and, as I live here, England (Bellowhead and Eliza Carthy have both played Womad and Bellowhead even describe themselves as 'English World Music'). Folk music has had a rough deal in the last few decades - I guess the memory of Ewan MacColl singing with his finger in his ear is too deep in culture - but there is a revival going on right now with a number of great young artists such as Eliza Carthy (daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy - probably one of the best guitarists in the world and inspiration to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon), Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman, Tim van Eyken, Spiers and Boden and their incredible aforementioned Ensemble Bellowhead. In fact, here they are on Jools Holland:

It may seem anachronistic and backwards looking to be doing this, but I really don't see it that way. Why do I like it:

  1. I like the fact that event when writing new songs there is a sense of respect for the tradition of songs passed down through the ages.
  2. Being rooted in culture is important - I can rejoice when I see any new musician connecting with those who have gone before him by exploring his cultural and musical roots.
  3. The songs are narrative - Post-modern before it existed - they tell stories that deserved to be remembered, and we should be telling more stories of life. I think of Billy Bragg's songs, such as 'Tender Comrade' as a good example of this.
  4. It is about community - whether it is singing along, playing or dancing - rather than just a spectator event.
Show of Hands wrote a song recently, Roots, with these lyrics:

'ROOTS' by Steve Knightley.

"Now it's been twenty-five years or more
I've roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen
Played in cafes and pubs and bars
I've stood in the street with my old guitar
But I'd be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request
For 'Duelling Banjos' 'American Pie'
Its enough to make you cry
'Rule Britannia' or 'Swing Low'
Are they the only songs the English know?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - they need roots

After the speeches when the cake's been cut
The disco is over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing until the morning breaks?
When the Indian, Asians, Afro, Celts
It's in their blood, below the belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than well ever know
Round the rocky shores of England

And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I've got a vision of urban sprawl
It's pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone stares at a great big screen
Over-paid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps
And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we've come from?
I've lost St George in the Union Jack
It's my flag too and I want it back

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England"

Here is the song - it says it all really.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Barth is my Inspiration

Or at least this little survey tells me so :-)

You scored as Neo orthodox, You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Reformed Evangelical


Modern Liberal






Classical Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

I took this test twice, at different times to see if I would get different results, but it came out pretty much the same each time. Strangely - the responses here don't suprise me that much - although they may shock my church leaders!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Porn stars, womanhood and the wallpaper of our lives

One of the great traditions in Britain is the long line of inspirational, strong female role models. Think of Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Mason and Beatrix Potter (her environmentalism was so far ahead of its time).

So, what has happened today. When the biggest role models are Jordan, Posh Spice, Britney Spears or the latest 5-minute starlet to get her kit off for Nuts something has really gone wrong. In a survey a shocking survey 63% of the girls surveyed would rather be 'glamour' models than have a real career (don't try and tell me that being glamour model is a career - you may earn money, but you contribute to the continued subjugation of women through sexual exploitation - choosing this makes you a disgrace to your gender - as reading would make me a disgrace to mine).

I remember catching a few minutes of a Christine Aguilera concert in which she writhed in her underwear with two male dancers, and the editing switched to an 8 or 9 year old girl in the audience watching with rapt attention to the floor show. All I could think was "what kind of message is this girl getting about what it means to be a person and a woman?" Is wanting to be shagged all there is to being a woman in the 21st century - is this really all there is? Naomi Wolf recently wrote an excellent piece entitled The Porn Myth in which she highlights the way porn has become "the wallpaper of our lives", that boys expect porn star looks and porn star sex, and that real women, unable to match up to this, have just become "bad porn". Here is a great quote from the article:

The porn loop is de rigueur, no longer outside the pale; starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the “cool girls” go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.
So boys grow up with a twisted idea of masculinity and femininity, and girls grow up with the ambition to be either a porn star or (if they are really ambitious) a WAG. And we have the blind complacency to call it 'harmless fun'. God save us.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Harry Potter - a Christian book after all!

Okay - Harry Potter has been out for over two weeks so I feel okay I posting this now. WARNING - there are spoilers in this post if you haven't read it yet.

Harry Potter books are Christian fiction! I don't mean the soppy, sentimental, preachy, formulaic drivel that is often published. I mean writing in the tradition of Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy L Sayers, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis. Writing with learning, depth, spiritual insights and the thread of biblical truth running throughout.

I remember when the first HP movie came out there was this strange furore. At my church I remember this tape by some preacher being hawked around warning Christian parents of the evils of the Hogwarts bunch. As I later discovered when reading it for myself it was a wonderful example of how to take book quotes out of context to prove a groundless point. After reading the first two books to find out what all the fuss was about, I then ready the last five for the sheer pleasure of a great story reasonably well written. And with the release of the last HP book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Christian undercurrent that I suspected all along has burst out into the story.

There was one of the finest article on this posted last week by a guy called Jerry Bowyer, Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Fundamentalists. I ought to emphasise that he is looking at the references in both Scripture and Christian art throughout the centuries, so this probably won't all convince the fire-breathers of his title. He puts the case well for a Christian basis to the books including:

  • Harry as a type of Prince Harry/Henry V - the archetypal Christian king.
  • Harry as a type of King Arthur - his upbringing, the wizard guide, the sword from the lake etc.
  • The battle with the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets as a type of the descent into Hell by Christ, and of the crushing of the serpents head foretold in Genesis.
  • The 'expecto patronum' spell literally means 'I look for the Saviour', and Harry Patronus is a Stag, a common symbol of Christ in medieval art.

This really became so obvious in Deathly Hallows when Harry goes as a willing sacrifice to die, and then returns from the place of the dead he goes to (called King's Cross), following which Voldemort's curses no longer have any power over him. This fulfills the scripture from 1 Corinthians quoted earlier in the book, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death".

For those who wonder if this is all intentional, this quote from J K Rowling when asked is she was a Christian herself should end any argument:

"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.”

After laying this out, Bowyer makes this devastating comment:

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.

I can't really add any more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cheap is Good

Tesco have somehow managed to get into the recent booklet, The Internet Shoppers Guide to Going Green (actually in a sanitised version of the real product made for sale in supermarkets). As well as somehow selling themselves as an ethical supplier of entertainment product (... uh huh ... I'll blog about the neutralisation of ethical shopping by increased consumerisation another day) they also have an advert that reads as follows:

Once upon a time they seemed pricey.
So we decided to sell them.
The end.
Yes. Very clever advert but utter rubbish. The fact is that Tesco, along with the other retailers, choose a few books each month to promote, demand extortionate discounts that only the biggest publishers can afford, and then choose at least one book to promote as a 'loss leader'. This means they will sell it cheaper than it can be bought by other retailers from a wholesaler and use it as a 'driver' for 'footfall' (forgive the retail-speak).

This does not help book retailing, in fact it cheapens the whole business of books, restricts the market to a few big players and reduces the amount that even they have to spend on developing new authors. This is not some act of salvation for the book trade by Tesco, it is the complete opposite.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Only the Hip Shall Be Redemmed

More than a decade ago folk/punk band The Electrics wrote a great song, The Hip Shall Be Redeemed, with these immortal lines:

Only the hip shall be redeemed
The poor and the pathetic will all get creamed
When God comes back to judge us
He'll be wearing Levi jeans
'Cause only the hip shall be redeemed

This song has stayed with me since - the idea that the right sort of clothing (or the right music, haircut or anything else) has any value in the community of those following Jesus is so utterly repugnant that it beggars belief that people actually think that way. The song follows up with this great satire:

And if you do not look the part
The sorry man how sad thou art
If you don't fit our body can't be one

It has really bothered me as I have traveled on both sides of the atlantic that in the progressive churches and movements there is an increasing focus on looking hip. The number of trendy preachers, mission directors and others who wouldn't be seen dead in anything other than Nike trainers, the right label on their shirt or the right music on their iPod (and it has to be an iPod) has been noticable. I'm not sure if this is an attempt to be 'cool' or just an unconscious enculturalization but it means that the more important questions about the ethics of production and materialism get subjugated to having the right stuff.

Is this what the church should be?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On the banks of the Clyde

Glasgow was a strange time. I arrived by train at about the same time that the attempted attack on Glasgow airport occurred, and having left London just 5 days earlier, and just prior to the car bomb attempts there, really brought home the closeness of the attacks. It is ironic that at a time like this I am travelling on a tour about non-violence.

The event itself went smoothly in the rather grand setting of the Royal Concert Hall, although the Scottish crowd were full of enthusiasm.

Rather surreal time afterwards, when I was offered a life back to my hotel by a couple of radio presenters (they do a show together) with whom I had just met. However, the driver got lost and I ended up getting a delightful tour of the motorway circling Glasgow whilst seeing my hotel retreat into the distance! It was fun (in a funny kind of way)!

I am now on the train down, managing to escape the worst of the delays etc) to Cambridge for the final night tonight.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wolverhampton Town

Okay - so this is a song sung by Rangers fans for their 1961 win in the Cup Winners' Cup, but at least it is a song!

After spending a relaxing day or so in Shrewsbury, it was off to the next gig. Last night's events was perhaps the best yet. The Wulfrun Hall is a great music venue seating around 650 (and 1100 standing) and had an incredible vibe to it. as a rock venue they are used to providing 'riders' in the dressing rooms - probably normally lots of cold beer, Jack Daniels etc, so I think they were a little bemused for our request for a plate of sandwiches, some cans of coke and a few bottles of water!

The crowd were loud, excited and Rob was really on form. The show is now really sharp, and the impact of the stories just seems to hi home even more. My favourite part of last night was the venue manager telling us how he has never seen his hardened security and technical staff affected by something before. Apparently they were 'blown away'!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Land of (their) Fathers

Tonight's event was at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff - a really grungy music venue in the Bay area. Previous appearances here included The Alarm, The Levellers, Van Morrison and Howard Marks, so Rob was in great company. The venue lent a really 'edgy' feel to the evening, and there was a lot more audience interaction than we have seen in many venues (Manchester apart ... but that is Manchester!).

We arrived into Cardiff around 2pm today, checked into the hotel and was able to spend a bit of time exploring the bay area - a redeveloped old dock and port, now a thriving commercial area with restaurants, pubs, the Welsh Assembly building, the stunning Opera House (with the stirring poem emblazoned on on the building in both Welsh and English "In These Stones/ Horizons/ Sing" - in welsh the word for sing here is Awen which means so much more than the English - it recalls Bardic tradition). We were able to relax and have some dinner looking out over the bay in some rare sunshine before heading off to the venue.

The building, The Coal Exchange, is over 100 years old and used to be, you guessed it, the Coal Exchange! That is, it is where the coal stocks from around the world were traded, and Rob performed on what was the trading room floor. Although all the redevelopment is great, I couldn't help but feel sad that this great music venue was going to be turned into expensive apartments for over-paid bankers!

Off to Shrewsbury today (my home town - I get to sleep in my bed!), where we are staying for the Wolverhampton gig.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I racked my brain but couldn't think of any song reference for Southampton. Any ideas?

With Southampton we start the back half of the tour - just 4 dates to go now. Last night was at the Nuffield Theatre located on the Southampton University campus. A great theatre - about 500 capacity (and another sell-out) but feeling really intimate.

Rob has media interviews with the Tear Times (from Tearfund - see the last post) and Inspire magazine. We also all had chance to have some dinner with Delirious? (the band) and also a Pastor based here in Southampton called Billy Kennedy - see New Community, who is working with Oasis and Steve Chalke, working with some failing schools.

We head off now to Cardiff for tonight's event.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Up to the rigs of London Town

Sorry about missing the Tuesday 19th event at The planned 22nd date sold out in a couple of weeks so we added another date, but I had to go the States a the same time. By all accounts it went well. Rob was also able to take some time this week and talk with the staff from Tearfund and Oasis, two organisations who do an excellent work and reflect much of what this tour is about.

The 22nd of June was a great time. As well as spending some time with the staff from Oasis, who are based in the offices above, Rob was interviewed by Premier Radio, Youthwork magazine and the Church Times. This reflects the breadth of interest in in Rob and the way in which thinkers such as Rob, Steve Chalke, Jim Wallis and others are breaking down the old religious boundaries within Christianity.
The event was great - another sell-out - and Rob was able to take some time at the end talking and praying with a number of people. We have had a relaxing weekend in London, and tomorrow we head off to Southampton for the next date.
See you then!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Manchester ... so much to answer for

Wow! There was so much energy tonight. This was at the 1100 seat Tameside Hippodrome, and was again pretty much a sell-out. The audience did the north proud - loads of energy and feedback, even a wolf whistle for Rob!

The team was introduced to the great British delicacy of Fish and Chips (that's deep fried battered cod and fries soaked in salt and vinegar to the American friends), so the carb count was high, high, high - ha ha. The crew at the venue were wonderful, really professional and made it such an easy experience.

The real highlight was a full page feature in the front part of the Manchester Evening News - with the great line - "Christianity is Rob's Rock'n'Roll".

"In Dublin's Fair City"

Following the hectic first day of arriving into Belfast, opening night nerves and a performance all in one day the two day trip into Dublin was really relaxing. Wednesday was spent exploring this amazing city, an incredible blend of the traditional and the very modern.

Thursday night performance was in St Mark's, a 250-year-old converted Church off the tourist trail. The venue seated around 400, and the shock on the faces of our local team was palpable as it filled up 30 minutes before the show - apparently this has never happened for ANYONE there before! In many ways the feel of the venue was very different. After playing to a venue seating 1000 or so in Belfast, 400 people all within eye contact made for a more intimate evening. When Rob spoke about the practical ways that we can show Shalom, the audience spontaneously broke into applause and the key word from many of those attending was 'inspiring'.

We are on the plane now flying over the Irish Sea to Manchester for the performance there tonight - from one legendary city to another.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Opening night!!!!

First night over!

Rob and co all arrived safely yesterday afternoon, somewhat later than planned after a 3-hour wait in the plane on the tarmac at Newark!

Tonight was in Belfast, at the Spires Conference Centre, right in the city centre and the turnout was unbelievable! We opened the doors at 7pm, and the steady flow of people meant that we weren't far from filling the 1000 seat venue! We had sold all 800 issued tickets, but more people came and paid on the door.

Rob came on stage exactly at 8pm to whisltes, cheers and applause for the first night of this tour, and immediately launched into a great evening where he showed. from scripture, all that the Shalom of God means, bringing it right down to the practical needs of people around the world.

The response of the audience was amazing - and it was really moving to hear stories from all the people who are going out and making a difference in their communities, at least partly inspired by Rob's books and NOOMA.

Today we move on to Dublin and have a free evening tonight before speaking at St Mark's, an old converted Church - now a music venue - tomorrow night.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Off on tour!

I'm very bad. I am sorry I haven't blogged for a while.

Anyway - on Tuesday I go off on tour with Rob Bell on the Calling All Peacemakers tour. The first stop is in Belfast on Tuesday at the Spires Conference Centre, followed by Dublin on the Thursday (14th). We then fly back to the UK, with Manchester on the 15th - I then disappear off to Grand Rapids for a few days - before two London dates on the 19th and 22nd, Southampton on the 25th, Cardiff on the 26th, Wolverhampton is the 28th, Glasgow the 30th and finally Cambridge on the 1st July. Whew!

It is exciting - we have exceeded ticket sales already on the first half of the tour, and the second half looks like it will follow suit.

So ... with this in mind I do plan to keep blogging during the tour giving a 'backstage' view of the events.

See you soon!

Friday, April 20, 2007

"War-cheerleading, crypto-racist, judgemental, hateful Christians"

Mitch Benn, a superb satirist and musician who is one of the team on the BBC comedy The Now Show (listen to the latest one if you haven't heard of it) posted an excellent blog on his My Space site last year about Christians. It is so good I thought I ought to reproduce it in full. I hope he doesn't sue me!


CRC (Campaign For Real Christians)

One of the fun things about the internet is getting to "meet" - electronically anyway - people you would otherwise never encounter.In particular just recently I've had some humdingers of arguments with American Right-Wing "Christians". This is particularly fun because, living in Europe, the kind of Americans you actually meet face to face are almost always the OTHER kind of American. The kind with passports.

I've also met the other kind of Christian American. The kind who are as alarmed and appalled as I am by the particular brand of American "Christianity" which gets all the attention in the world media. The war-cheerleading, crypto-racist, judgemental, hateful kind. One in particular observed to me that he was sure that there were more American Christians who espoused HIS kind of Christianity - the tolerant, loving, inclusive kind - but that it was always the OTHER sort of Christian who got all the headlines.

What follows is my reply to him, and it goes out to all those who don't recognise the louder variety of "Christianity" as anything of the kind...

"So go GET some f**kin' headlines."

Seriously, dude... I'm no Christian myself but I was raised in what I guess you would call the Christian Tradition and you know, my RE teachers were nobody's idea of be-jumpered happy clappers (one of them in particular was a scary-eyed End-Timeser) but looking back, I seem to recall that the Jesus I read about WASN'T a hate-slinging gun-owning judgemental warmonger, but, well, frankly, a bit of a hippy. Maybe even a (whisper it) Liberal (gasps of horror, hands clapped over children's ears...). You know, preached tolerance, forbearance, love for one's fellow man, spoke out against violence and avarice, general tree-hugging sh1t like that.

Now if the Christian Right (who are neither) have managed to acquire a virtual monopoly over which voices of faith are heard in the media, it strikes me that this must be at least PARTIALLY due to Real Christians taking their collective eye off the ball with regards to getting their message heard.

Of course, it's always harder for moderates and reasonable people to grab headlines than it is for ranting nutters because moderates and reasonable people are so, well, moderate and reasonable. Nutters and hatemongers can get their voices heard because they ALWAYS have something to scream about.Well right now, you Real Christians REALLY have something to scream about, namely the hijacking of your faith and your spiritual identity! If you can't get indignant about the vile perversion of Jesus's teaching currently masquerading as "Christian values", what CAN you get indignant about?

The one time I seem to recall Jesus losing his rag was the casting out of the money-lenders from the Temple... Correct me if I'm wrong here but I remember the quotation as "My Father's house is a house of prayer, and you have turned it into a den of thieves!" Right now Christ's father's house - The Church - has been turned into a den of thieves, warmongers, bigots, liars, hypocrites and swindlers. So all you Real Christians out there - those of you who still recall all that hippy crap about peace and forgiveness - channel some of Jesus's righteous anger and cast those b@stards out. Heathens like me can't do it for ya."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Celebrity, real people and the whole tawdry business

So it has finally been announced that some guy with bad hair has been proven to be the father of a little girl whose mother died in really sad circumstances. This led to wall-to-wall coverage on Fox News, CNN, SKY News, BBC as well as on the network TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anna Nicole Smith is not the issue here - it is so sad that someone was so duped by a sick and seriously twisted culture that she came to believe that the only thing worth pursuing was fame even when she acknowledged that it wasn't even making her happy. The problem I have is that this is somehow considered of public consequence. Have we got to the point where it is not just celebrity gossip magazines and tabloids that run stories of human tragedy for the benefit of entertainment, but that you can have serious journalists such as Hannity and Colmes actually having a debate over the results of a paternity test for the daughter of a former Playboy model? Is this all that is left in the modern world? The fight has been given up, and appealing to the lowest common denominator in sex, multiple lovers, drugs and death is what all 'news' is now about?

Our culture is at war with itself. On the one hand we ring our hands over the sexualisation of children, celebrity culture, exploitation of women, low educational standards and increasing violence; but then we create and buy Bratz dolls in fishnet stockings, jeans for 9 year old girls with 'Sexy' across the backside, we all watch people destroy themselves on Celebrity Big Brother, create mind-numbing TV and are, in the word's on Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rob Bell tour

Cards on the table - I have been involved in organising this. However, I am really excited by the Rob Bell tour to the UK in June of this year. It is called Calling All Peacemakers and is visiting the following cities:

12th June Belfast – Spire Conference centre

14th June Dublin – Tripod

15th June Manchester – Tameside Hippodrome

22nd June London -

25th June Southampton – Nuffield Theatre

26th June Cardiff – Coal Exchange

28th June Wolverhampton – Wulfrun Hall

30th June Glasgow – Royal Concert Hall

1st July Cambridge- Westroad Concert Hall

£1 from every ticket plus all profits will be donated to the Turami microfinance project. The Turami project, operated by World Relief, extends business loans to 3,500 individuals in Gitega and Bujumbura provinces of Burundi. It was judged by the United Nations to be the best microfinance operation in the country – see

Tickets are available from

Monday, April 02, 2007

Is Consumerism an Empire

I suppose it is because of the industry (publishing) in which I work, but so often I just skim books and often don't allow the book to make any real impact. Then, every so often, a book comes along that you know is going to change your life. One such book for me is Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian J Walsh and Sylvia C Keersmaat. Their main thesis is that as the Roman domination was the empire at the time of Paul writing the book of Colossians (and which he subverted in the text), so Global Consumerism is the Empire of our postmodern time. Here is a quote:

Globalization isn't just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions. Progress is its underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall (physical or online) its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image, "I'll have a Big Mac and fries" its ritual of initiation, and global domination its ultimate goal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slavery, Exploitation and Real People

Phil Whittall, in his blog The Simple Pastor posted this video from the Stop the Traffik campaign about people trafficking. And I have to agree with Phil that it is to the credit of Daniel Bedingfield that he did this.

However, people trafficking is not the only slavery problem today. There are around 27 million real slaves in the world today - more than the total enslaved by the British Empire prior to the abolition. Stop the Traffik is a partner to the
Amazing Change campaign (see here for more specific UK information) which campaigns to end all forms of slavery (including human trafficking, sexual slavery and traditional forms of slavery). Here is a video explaining more:


I watch these videos and think - what am I waiting for?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Making a Difference

So on Sunday night my wife and I want to see Amazing Grace movie (it opened here on Friday to coincide with the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade - not the end of Slavery in the British Empire - this took another 26 years). As a movie it was ok - but as a piece of inspiration it was incredible. It summed up exactly where I am right now. I have been dwelling on Isaiah 58 for a couple of months now:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

I cannot get out of my head the idea that to pour ourselves out on behalf of the opressed, enslaved, beaten down and hungry is the normal Christian life, and the surban-inspired excuses we give sound hollow and empty when compred with passages such as this. Can someone really be truly alive in a life spent paying the mortgage, booking the next vacation and saving for a new kitchen?

So many blogs art the moment are talking about how angry God is with various things - sin, the emerging church (give me a break!), various prominent preachers etc. However, I read this passage from Zechariah this morning:

And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'

But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.

God was angry because they did not act on behalf of those who cannot act themselves. How much more offensive must our entire culture be in the west, where every buying decision we make for food, clothing, gifts and toys is a moral decision and we fail to make the right choice. Not only are we not acting on behalf of people, we are actively supporting their opporession by not forcing our western companies to stop exploiting people in other parts of the world.

I can hear the clamour of arguments about people needing jobs, that 'fair trade' is just too expensive (and what we mean by that is "If I don't pay the cheap prices and gain from the exploitation I cannot afford to buy that cool new DVD I wanted"!), that the issues are too complicated etc. but it still stands that our buying decisions are a moral decision and our consumerism is morally repugnant to God. Period.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Change, Change, Change

A friend of mine, Cameron, wrote about change a couple of days ago:

I think I realized something the other day:
Things change, especially when you're single. It's as if the social networks
upon which you stand are constantly shifting, like plates under a giant
fault line.

Friends get married, people move, people start dating
and fall off the face of the earth, people buy houses, people get new jobs
in other cities.

People change.

This really got me thinking. How much changes so quickly. Some other friends of mine (see moved to Seattle and I haven't seen them since June of last year, and probably won't get chance until summer 2008 at the earliest - and I really miss them. Another friend and colleague has been going through a really tough time and has resigned his position because of this. It has been almost a year since Rob Lacey passed away (I still miss him so much) and yet it seems like life has moved on so much since then.

I think about all the ways in which we try and create stability in our lives - homes, careers, soicial networks, family; but how often it is in a state of constant change. I was talking with my wife this morning and how perhaps the best way to leave something permanent on earth (or as permanent as earth gets anyway) is in the lives of others. Rob Bell asked the question :"What makes you angry?" because whatever makes you angry is probably what you should be pouring your life into and out for. I need to find this - I don't want to look back in five years time to find that I vascilated and hesitated and haven't yet started to embrace the fulness of life.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How Lord of the Rings should have ended - VERY funny!

Maybe if I told people about my blog ....

It has occured to me that if I want a blog there are a few things I ought to do:

1. I really should post more than every 19 months or so ...

2. I should let people know I have this blog ...

3. I need to write something interesting.

As I have failed on all three so far I thought I would use this post to talk about an incredible article I found:

Looks like the evangelical christians beat us to it!!!

original article

Preaching Revolution

A new evangelical movement offers lessons for the left

By Zack Exley

"Recently, I blogged a series of essays titled “The Revolution Misses You,” in which I called for progressives to revive the forgotten dream of practical yet radical change. Friends and colleagues immediately scolded me for using “extreme” terms such as “revolution” and “radical.” “You’ll only alienate people,” they said. “This will come back to haunt you.”
At first, I was surprised by what felt like a dramatic overreaction. But I soon realized why I had fallen out of sync with the progressive mainstream on the use of the “R-words”: I had been spending time listening to and reading evangelical Christians who are preaching revolution.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., a 36-year-old evangelical pastor named Rob Bell regularly describes his ministry as “revolutionary,” “radical” and “an insurgency.” Far from alienating people with such language, Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church draws thousands of new worshipers each year from the mostly conservative and white suburbs of west Michigan. In one recent sermon, available as a podcast from, Bell tells his congregation that the only time Jesus speaks of God directly taking someone’s life is the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-22), a story about a man who builds bigger barns to store a surplus harvest instead of sharing it with those in need. He closed the sermon by listing a dozen places around Grand Rapids where congregants could unload their own surplus wealth.

In his book Irresistible Revolution, 30-year-old author Shane Claiborne, who is currently living in Iraq to “stand in the way of war,” asks evangelicals why their literal reading of the Bible doesn’t lead them to do what Jesus so clearly told wealthy and middle-class people to do in his day: give up everything to help others.

The popular evangelical Christian magazine Relevant, launched in 2003 by Cameron Strang, the son of a Christian publishing magnate, contains a “Revolution” section complete with a raised red fist for a logo. They’ve also released The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, a compilation by radical, Christian social-justice campaigners from around the world."So they got the whole altruistic, anti-imperialist anti-capitalist anti-classist thing going for them, and they're not crazy Trotskyests (not yet), but, you know, the whole "Jesus, and only Jesus, Saves" thing...I'm just trying to predict how this all might escalate in the future, the fall of American Capitalism championed by a brigade of militant, cross bearing, midwestern bible thumpers. Should I be afraid?

Bell and Claiborne are two of the better-known young voices of a broad, explicitly nonviolent, anti-imperialist and anticapitalist theology that is surging at the heart of white, suburban Evangelical Christianity. I first saw this movement at a local, conservative, nondenominational church in North Carolina where the pastor preached a sermon called “Two Fists in the Face of Empire.” Looking further, I found a movement whose book sales tower over their secular progressive counterparts in Amazon rankings; whose sermon podcasts reach thousands of listeners each week; and whose messages, in one form or another, reach millions of churchgoers. Bell alone preaches to more than 10,000 people every Sunday, with more than 50,000 listening in online.


But this movement is still barely aware of its own existence, and has not chosen a label for itself. George Barna, who studies trends among Christians for clients such as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Focus on the Family, calls it simply “The Revolution” and its adherents “Revolutionaries.”

“The media are oblivious to it,” Barna wrote in his 2006 book Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary. “Scholars are clueless about it. The government caught a glimpse of it in the 2004 presidential election but has mostly misinterpreted its nature and motivations.” According to his research, there are more than 20 million Revolutionaries in America, differentiated from mainstream evangelicals by a greater likelihood of serving their community and the poor and oppressed within it, a more “intimate, personally stirring worship of God” in daily life, and a much greater chance of studying the Bible every day.

One indication that this movement is new, nebulous and spontaneous is that Gregory Boyd, a like-minded mega-church pastor two states away in St. Paul, Minn., knew nothing of Rob Bell’s theology until recently. He only heard of the pastors’ conference after the fact because his book Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church was distributed to conference participants.

“There’s definitely something going on,” says Boyd. “I’ve only become aware of it as people have responded to my book. It’s not organized — it’s amorphic. It would include the ‘emerging church movement,’ but it’s bigger than that. It’s a vision of the kingdom [of God]. It’s a new kind of Christianity.”

Heather Zydek, the former “Revolution” section editor for Relevant magazine and the editor of The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, says, “I definitely don’t have a name for it, but, yes, something is happening. Some people say it’s a Generation X — or Y — thing. But baby boomers are in on it too.”

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners magazine and author of the bestseller God’s Politics, says, “‘Progressive evangelicals’ was thought to be a misnomer, but now we’re a movement.” He was as surprised as anyone when his 2006 book tour for God’s Politics began to develop the feel of a revival tour. At evangelical Christian Bethel University in St. Paul, Wallis spoke shortly after a rally held by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. More people attended Wallis’ event. “One of the Dobson organizers came over and told me, ‘If they make us keep focusing on just two issues [abortion and gay marriage], they’re going to lose all of us,’” he says.

Wallis has long been known on the left as a progressive evangelical voice in the wilderness. But in fact, over the past decades Wallis has had plenty of company, including Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider and N.T. Wright, among others. And while this new generation has been inspired by many of those teachers, they do not have the same association with the organized left that some of their predecessors do. Shane Claiborne is one of the few young voices in this movement who at least knows the history of cross-pollination between the Left and Christianity, mentioning Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day’s socialist origins in Irresistible Revolution.
Zydek characterizes the movement this way: “We want to get back to the roots of Christianity, to the essence of Christianity, which is about service to those in need, sacrifice, denial of self for others — it’s about [Jesus saying] ‘pick up your cross and follow me.’ But for too long we’ve spread a gospel of suburbanism, of self-centeredness, of capitalism, of political conservatism — but not the gospel: the gospel that came from Christ.”


I had been a regular listener of Rob Bell’s sermon podcasts for a few months when he announced the January 20-21 “Isn’t She Beautiful” conference (“She” being the church). The invitation was open to “Church leaders, pastors, and basically just revolutionaries and insurgents from all over the world.” I signed right up.

I arrived at Mars Hill the evening before the conference, in a heavy snow, just in time to catch the regular Sunday night service. The Mars Hill church building is a converted mall. From the outside it looks just like any other old shopping center — they’ve never put up a sign. So when you walk in and see the teeming, logo-free community inside that has taken over every inch of this entire mall, you get the feeling that you’ve walked into an alternate universe. Imagine walking into a McDonalds to find your mom’s kitchen inside.

The sanctuary is a hollowed-out department store that used to host RV shows and swap meets — no decoration, just exposed aluminum walls, ducts and beams. As I walked in, a volunteer handed me a Bible. Three thousand people were on their feet, singing powerfully and worshiping in an explosive expression of collective joy that simply does not exist in the left of this era. There were certainly some “hipster Christians” in the crowd (tattoos, goatees, etc.), but overwhelmingly the congregants were mainstream-looking Michiganders.

Rob Bell finally took to the stage, sporting plastic-rim, hipster glasses, a white belt and cool shirt. He looks like a grown-up indie rock star (and used to play in a popular Grand Rapids band). The son of a Reagan-appointed federal judge, Bell graduated from Wheaton College, where male and female students live in separate dorms with curfews and are encouraged to abstain from physical intimacy. After receiving his M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Bell interned at a conservative, non-denominational evangelical church in Grand Rapids, from which he launched Mars Hill as a “church plant” in February 1999. The name Mars Hill refers to the site where the apostle Paul preached to non-Jews by making the gospel current and relevant to their own culture.

On this night, Bell barely preached himself, and instead spent the evening, as he often does, interviewing a member of the church about how she was living out the gospel. She and her husband had moved to a broken inner-city neighborhood and begun a tutoring and family assistance ministry that is now in the process of expanding out of a church basement to fill an entire renovated warehouse.

If you compare the Mars Hill complex to progressive community centers or union halls, it has no rival. The entire mall has been converted. Most of the stores are now classrooms for the different grades of its enormous Sunday school. One of the large department stores has been converted into an events and youth meeting space with a stage, and ping pong and pool tables. The broad, carpeted concourse is now filled with comfy sofas and chairs for sitting and talking. Though the complex is perfectly clean and attractive, you get the feeling that the church, in renovating the facilities, has spent the minimum possible resources to meet functional needs.
More striking than the size of Mars Hill is the intensity of participation among the membership. The Mars Hill house church program — where small numbers of people come together in a home for Bible study, fellowship, mutual support and as a launching point for outreach into the community — involves more than 2,000 members in hundreds of groups, each with its own leaders. Several hundred volunteer as childcare providers and Sunday school teachers. And hundreds more serve each Sunday as ushers, parking helpers and medics. (With 3,500 people in a room, you never know what can happen.)

Yet Mars Hill is not atypical. According to the Barna Group, nine percent of Americans attend house churches (up from one percent 10 years ago). And tens of thousands of churches are de facto community centers, serving and supporting virtually all aspects of their members’ lives, usually with a significant percentage of members acting as volunteers. In this way, churches have left progressives in the dust in terms of serving and engaging people directly. The union hall is the left’s nearest equivalent, but not only is it dying, it rarely attempts to serve anywhere near as many of the needs — spiritual and practical — as churches do.


Could the shift in focus from personal salvation to the building of the “kingdom of Heaven” be the inevitable result of the long rise of “back to the Bible” fundamentalism? Tens of millions of American Christians are not only reading the Bible, but getting together in groups and studying it — studying the historical context in which the authors wrote, the nuances of the original Greek and Hebrew, and the issues raised by translation and conflicting source texts.

Zydek says, “No matter how you pick and choose your favorite Bible passages, if you know that Jesus died on the cross for you, that’s going to affect the way you treat other people. If you’re a Bible-believing Christian, maybe you choose to emphasize evangelism or maybe you emphasize works, but you can’t ignore Jesus’ example of unconditional love on the cross.”

Wallis agrees. “The religious right is being replaced by Jesus,” he says. “They’re just really digging into Jesus, and what they read in [the Book of] Acts doesn’t correspond to their churches. And so they’re changing them or going out and creating new communities.”
The Revolutionaries’ faith in the Bible leads them to a gospel of social justice, but it also leads to a morality that is far out of step with mainstream American culture and the left. Sex outside of marriage, divorce, “lust,” “sexual immorality” and homosexuality are all things Jesus or other New Testament voices spoke about with varying degrees of intensity.

According to Wallis, the Revolutionaries are “breaking away from the Right in droves — but they will never be captured by the left. They’re going to challenge the left on a lot of things: For these Christians, sex is covenantal and not recreational. And they oppose abortion and they are not going to move away from that.”

Where Revolutionaries most part ways with many mainstream evangelical churches’ interpretation of the Bible is in their embrace of women as leaders, elders and preachers. Mars Hill’s lead elder (board chair) is a woman. A similar process of reversal of the restriction on women in leadership is taking place in many evangelical churches across the country.


Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation is based on a series of six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” he delivered at his St. Paul church in the politically-charged atmosphere of the 2004 presidential election, in which Minnesota was a heavily-targeted swing state. In those sermons, which made national news, he said:

Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. … I am sorry to tell you, that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

He also spoke out against the exclusive focus on abortion and gay marriage by many evangelical leaders. “Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

His not-very subtle rebuke of Republican electioneering caused around 1,000 members of his congregation to leave. “Close to 700 left during the six-week ‘Cross and the Sword’ sermon series,” he says. “Another 300 or so left when I ‘didn’t have the good sense’ to back off the topic but rather returned to it once again just prior to the election.” But 4,000 stayed. And he said he had never received so much positive feedback in his career: “Some people literally wept with gratitude, saying that they had always felt like outsiders in the evangelical community for not ‘toeing the conservative party line.’”

Yet the Revolution is not primarily a reaction to Republican attempts to politicize the church. What sets it apart from mainstream evangelicalism is not a liberal rejection of Republican politics, but rather a more radical rejection of conservatism and liberalism, and anything else that is not the “kingdom of God.”

To the Revolutionaries, what seems righteous or commonsensical to humans does not matter; all that matters is what God wants. Boyd writes in Myth of a Christian Nation: “To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus — dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process — to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree that they do not look like this, they do not manifest God’s kingdom.”
And that is where anticapitalism and anti-imperialism come in. Capitalism doesn’t look like Jesus. Empire doesn’t look like Jesus. In their critique of the political and economic institutions of the “kingdom of the world,” the Revolutionaries are following in the tradition of early Christianity. In Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, pastor and theologian Brian J. Walsh and theologian Sylvia C. Keesmaat write:

Just as in the ancient world, the [Roman imperial] images of peace and prosperity masked the reality of inequality and violence, so the contemporary images projected by advertising mask the reality of sweatshops, inequality, and domestic and international violence created by our lifestyles. And in the face of the ubiquitous imagery of the empire, Paul proclaims Jesus as the true image of God (Col 1:15) and calls the Colossian Christians to bear the image of Jesus in shaping an alternative to the empire.

For the Revolutionaries, the new “temple” — from which Jesus chased the money changers in the Bible — is the shopping mall. They write:

Globalization isn’t just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions. Progress is its underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image, ‘I’ll have a Big Mac and fries’ its ritual of initiation, and global domination its ultimate goal.

In the shopping mall liberated by Mars Hill, the Colossians Remixed authors — a married couple who home school their children — discussed their work during an all-day forum attended by a thousand suburban, white, middle-class moms and dads. How many authors from the anti-globalization left have presented their ideas to a willing mass audience of middle-class suburbanites?

The thinking and dreaming of this movement is as utopian as the most far-out sect of antiglobalization anarchists, yet they are living it right at the heart of mainstream America. And they are organizing with unbelievable success, attracting thousands of new participants every week and spawning hundreds of new churches and thousands of new small groups and house churches every year.


At the “Isn’t She Beautiful” conference, the non-theological sessions were devoted to one of the secrets of this movement’s success: leaders — identifying them, recruiting them, “loving them” and letting them lead. The pastors at the conference all seemed to view their church memberships as seas of under-utilized leaders, and spent as much time as they could learning from each other and the Mars Hill staff how to be the best “fishers of men” they believe Jesus called them to be.

This high-density leadership organizing model stands in stark contrast to anything I’ve ever seen working in unions, progressive organizations and Democratic political campaigns. On the left, recruiting and mobilizing leaders has become devalued work that is typically left to inexperienced recent college graduates. The pastors at this conference, however, saw recruiting and inspiring leaders as one of their central callings. Too often, the left pays lip service to the grassroots, but lacks faith in grassroots leaders. The result is that too many of our organizations are one person deep and stretched impossibly thin. At the conference, I tried to imagine what Kerry campaign field offices (where I spent a lot of time in 2004) would have looked like if we had recruited leaders instead of “bodies” and expected them to be “faithful, committed members of a team” (words included in Mars Hill volunteer job descriptions). Some organizations on the left do include “leadership development” in their organizing models. But churches seem to assume that there are already plenty of “developed” leaders in their midst and go straight to giving them as much responsibility as they can.

Andrew Richards is the “local outreach pastor” at Mars Hill, charged with driving the Mars Hill house church program to reach people in need in the greater Grand Rapids community. “We’re not only taking care of the needs of our own community, but we want to respond to the needs that are in the greater community,” he said before a recent Sunday service while trying to recruit more leaders. He laid out five areas of focus: urban at-risk youth, refugees, poverty, community development and HIV/AIDS.

Rob Bell and other church leaders seem to be building up to a big challenge. It is unclear exactly what is in the works. (Bell does not give interviews.) But he has been preaching more and more about “systemic oppression,” poverty, debt and disease — not just locally but globally. And other leaders have indicated to the membership that the current level of sacrifice for others in the community and the world is not in line with Jesus’ teachings.

On Dec. 10, 2006, Bell kicked off a series of sermons, titled “Calling all Peacemakers,” during
which he said:

Never before in history have there been a group of people as resourced as us. … Never before has there been a group of people who could look at the most pressing needs of the world and think: well, we could do it … History is like sitting right there, in the middle of war, and great expenditure, and violence, and the world torn apart in a thousand directions — [waiting for] a whole ground swell of people to say, ‘Well, we could, we could, we could do this. We could do what Jesus said to do.’

But, as of now, the Revolutionaries seem to be embracing person-to-person, “be the alternative” solutions to the exclusion of advocating for social policy that is more in line with their vision of the kingdom. Boyd says, “I never see Jesus trying to resolve any of Caesar’s problems.”
Wallis believes this reluctance comes from the recent experience of being dragged into the mess of partisan politics on the terms of the Republican party.

“But the prophets [of the Bible] don’t talk about just being an island of hope — they talk about land, labor, capital, equity, fairness, wages,” says Wallis. “And who are the prophets addressing? Employers, judges, rulers. On behalf of widows, orphans, workers, farmers, ordinary people. The gospel is deeply political. It’s not partisan politics, but a prophetic politics. It is what the prophets and Jesus finally call us to.”

“Take any big issue we’ve got: Politics is failing to deal with it. They see that,” Wallis continues. “But I’m saying that we need to change politics. Social movements change politics — and the strongest social movements have spiritual foundations.”

I asked Wallis if leaders like Rob Bell were part of a rebirth of the Liberation Theology movement that took root in Latin America in the ’60s and ’70s. “This movement is in a sense liberation theology in the best sense of the word,” he says, “but it’s more personally faith-based, more street-based and finally more community-based. I remember you’d go to a [liberation theology] event and it would be analysis, analysis, analysis — and there would never even be a prayer.”

This new generation of Christian Revolutionaries most definitely places prayer above analysis. But where will their prayers lead them? Will they forever restrict themselves to person-to-person, “relational” solutions? Or will they choose to influence political leaders on issues they share with the left — poverty, war, environmental destruction — with the same force that the Christian Right exerted around abortion, gay marriage and other areas?

All that’s certain is that they will keep praying for answers with a desperate yearning and remarkable openness — as Rob Bell did recently:

God, give us a vision for a new kind of world. We grieve, we honor, we condemn. But we want to move through that. We want to have asked the hard, hard questions. But we want to move though that too. And we want to be people of a dream, which we believe is your dream for the world. But then, God, we want to move past that. We want to move to action. … God, what would this look like? Show us millions of different ways to bless — to bless in such a way that it would literally shake the foundation of the Earth and capture us with this kind of dream. … Please, God, open our eyes.

And 10,000 American suburbanites replied, “Amen"

What are we here for?