Saturday, 20 August 2011

Christians@Work - Saturday

Stories are powerful agents of transformation and today's theme was 'A story rich life'.

What is story? It is the telling of significant actions of characters over time (CCTV images, by contrast are not a story, but just moving pictures). Like currency, stories change hands without losing any of their value. They belong to the 'economy of abundance' (see Tuesday). They are a way of preserving memories and provide a form in which our minds can receive and retain information. They invite us in, evoke our imagination and do there work 'from below', in our subconscious, where they grow and blend with other stories we have heard and experiences we have had.

The best stories are to do with life's struggles and it is the messiness and failures of our lives that ironically make the most successful stories. Not all stories work for good - you can think of people and places that carry negative stories and hence a 'bad reputation'. We can only counter these with more positive stories.
" Most of us rise no higher than the stories around us". Exposing ourselves, our children and others to life giving stories is vital.

Experience is the stuff of stories and we moved on to consider the concept of the 'experience economy' - that is, the attempt by professional marketing experts to package and sell 'experiences', and ultimately the experience of 'transformation'. It may be the dream of an altered, sexier body image or it may be the 'holiday of a lifetime'. Not everyone wants to be transformed into a 'better person' !

Nevertheless that point made is that churches deal in experience and in transformation, yet do not recognise that this is a high premium 'commodity' in today's market. We have treasures to offer in this 'emerging market'. Cathedral attendance is on the 'up' - people increasingly value the experience of music, liturgy and silence in these great places of architectural heritage.

In discussion we considered how far this Window on the World conference might be what Ann calls a 'sweet spot', ie. where the following might be true:

The experience alters our world view; it helps us to rethink how we fit in to our wider vision; it boost our personal capabilities and characteristics to new levels; it stimulates a sense of wonder, beauty and appreciation. (If these are true, then the likelihood of transformation is increased.)

Final thoughts, on this our final day of the conference, addressed the implications for Christians in a world that has 'gone wrong'.

The attitude of I'm all right, Jack' is unacceptable. Assurance of our own personal salvation at the expense of all else is a kind of heresy, and is the enemy of faith, since it implies that we know the mind of God (Gnosticism). If we truly live for Jesus we will be drawn into his being for others.

The well tried formulae of our faith (eg creeds) no longer 'travel' in a troubled world. Not that they are wrong, but that they come across as bossy, as having all the answers and they speak of hope without enacting or delivering hope.

We were left with some simple and positive responses. In conversation, for example, we can hear ourselves think and open ourselves to the possibility of changing the way we view the world and the way we act. We express and build trust in others. Conversation is part of the 'economy of abundance' (see Tuesday).

Jesus saves not only by his death and resurrection but by showing us how to live. Our micro-actions can contribute to the 'virtual circles' that are as real as the 'vicious cycles' we more commonly hear about.

Church is a place were we can stay honest. It is a place for people in their brokenness and vulnerability, not their success. It supports our intentional action (see Wednesday), and enables us to rise above our circumstances. It is where we practice compassion, conviviality and our confidence in abundance. It draws upon the enrichment of scripture and of past times to remain confident in God and in the human ability to correct its own errors. It arouses the urge for co-operative creativity. It is a place of gratitude and generosity.

Following our final service of communion and healing (annointing with oil), the 'Noson Lawen' showcased contributions from the various children's and young people's groups and the workshops that have been meeting throughout the week - including singing, drama, video, Tai Chi and more. A fitting climax to the week and the start of fond farewells as people prepare to go their separate ways.

PS I did buy one of Ann Morisy's books before the bookstall packed up - and am happy to lend it.

Many thanks to Parch. Geraint Tudur for the photos of the conference which appear on these blog pages

Friday, 19 August 2011

Christians@Work - Friday

Today's theme 'Snake@work' began by looking at the idea of sin.

Sin is 'our great offering to the world' because it is our human common denominator, crossing all boundaries of wealth and status. In the past it has been our sin to think that the poor are more sinful than the rich. The idea of 'original sin' is that it a part of our human condition. So we cannot be in the game of pointing a finger at others. Our response must be one of humility and compassion, not condemnation. There but for the grace of God go I.....

Sin is not so much about moral misbehaviour as about lazy thinking - opting out of thinking for ourselves. The first sin was not Eve eating the apple, its was Eve letting the snake tell her what to think! This is how we fritter away our destiny.

Sin contaminates our thinking, and then our actions. It allows us to switch off our critical capacity. Naturally, our thinking is conditioned by our family and cultural background. It cannot be sinful to think as we have been taught, rather the sin is to refuse insights which are given to us, which would keep us honest.

It gets into anxious communities and nations (See Tuesday for more on anxiety). When anxious we tend to collude with and appease the powerful. We suspend our ability to judge right and wrong. A kind of 'common sense' prevails which may be highly dysfunctional. Notoriously this was seen in Nazi Germany.

As an example in the UK- mother and baby homes used to exist for young women who became pregnant out of wedlock - often they were women in service, made pregnant by the gentleman of the house. Superindendents at the time, assessing such cases, found the women to be irredeemably 'morally defective'. Guilt was presumed to rest with the least powerful partner whilst the powerful 'gentleman' remained unaccountable for his actions. These Superintendents were (perhaps unknowingly) colluding with the powerful and oppressing the poor.

The response of Jesus, unlike that of social or revolutionary movements, is not to overthrow the rich but to transform them.

We talked about wealth and poverty. Why are the poor, poor? The problems of affluence. Why the gospel only makes sense when read from to place of vulnerability. What are our hopes for the rich? How can rich and poor all experience life in its abundance?

Much of this is discussed in Ann Morisy's book. I'm thinking of buying a copy from the bookstall...

On a sillier note, the evening hijinx included round 2 of the 'I'm a Christian get me out of here' contest in which our remaining three pairs of volunteers created new hairstyles using 'silly string'. Another pair were 'evicted' by popular vote.

As usual, dancing followed.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Christians@work - Thursday

Yesterday we drew on the insights of social and psychological research. Today we drew on stories in exploring the day's theme: Divine Disquiet

'Owls story' was humorously presented by the drama group during all age worship. Owl believes himself to be wise and learned. After refusing his friends one by one in their different needs, he learns from Jesus about true discipleship.

Ann Morisy in her session told of Sister Richard and her series of encounters with 'Fred', who was homeless. She was unable to help him, but found herself praying daily for Fred and for her inability to do anything for him. Some years later, she was moved to give up her teaching post - and the security of the associated pension - in order to begin, with her fellow Sisters, a ministry amongst homeless people. Discipleship action often begins, as in this case, with a 'burden' of prayer. We are driven into action by anger, frustration or dissatisfaction with the way things are. It may take us to uncomfortable places, as we step outside what is familiar and safe and find ourselves alongside those who know about the struggles of the world. Discipleship is 'venturesome love.'

It can be very simple - as simple as sharing hospitality. St Bernard's church is close to accommodation flats for people who have been discharged from a psyhiatric hospital and who still require some support to live independently. Caretakers who work in the accommodation blocks are often the first to know of personal and pastoral problems amongst residents and it is they who have to deal with the practical consequences of accidents or death. But it is not a caretaker's job to care for people; their remit is restricted to care of the premises. The church struck upon the idea of holding regular cooked breakfast meetings for the caretakers, where they could talk with the minister about pastoral problems that they were aware of. The minister was able to follow up and make referrals to appropriate sources of help where required.

The church was able to tap into something which enabled a cascade of positive consequences. Discipleship is about so much more than 'doing jobs in church'. It not something to do alone, but needs a structure and colleagues for support, backup and mutual encouragement.

Prayer can be thought of as pre-figuring or rehearsing in our minds how we might perform in the likeness of Jesus. When we act like Jesus, even just a little, we enter the 'economy of abundance' (described Tuesday) and grace cascades.

Some of us made an afternoon visit by minibus to the Iron Age Fort Henllys Castell. The Malawian members of the party recognised much that reminded them of rural villages back home. Others took a ride on the Teifi Valley railway.

In the evening it was my turn to contribute to the Christians@work perspective session and say something of my experience of being a Christian in the world of my work. I appreciated the opportunity to think about my paid work (in the voluntary sector) in this way.

A quiz followed and our team lost miserably.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Christians@work - Wednesday

Today we explored the church as a place of 'hopeful possibilities'.
Research shows that religion is essential to the flourishing of the human species. Mission, therefore, is not just about helping people to discover Jesus or about growing churches. It is about the viability of human life!

We were introduced to studies that have concluded:
Religious experience is associated with increased psychological well being.

It helps people survive when they are at rock bottom.

It makes people more open to the needs and fragility of others.
It helps older people to feel useful and to adjust to the limitations of old age.
It gives young people a sense of purpose.
Going to church once a week is better for well-being than having your salary doubled!

How do churches offer hopeful possibilities? By providing a place of encouragement, nurture , hope and belonging. By encourage people to think differently and act differently. By helping people overcome the constraints of their circumstances.

We grossly overestimate the power that circumstances have in our lives and we underestimate the power of ‘intentional activity’ – that is, the things that are within our control to bring about by our own choice. Our well-being is affected by our genetic endowment (50%) by our circumstances (10%) and by our intentional activity (40%). This is where our greatest potential for meaningful and life-giving action lies.

The Methodist revival is a great example of the church at work in awakening and directing people’s ‘intentional activity’. People in need became the solution to their own problems, by awakening their sense of power to change their circumstances. Only Britain can claim, as part of its heritage, a revolution that was rooted in the love of the Lord! It is a heritage to be proud of.

Worship has its place in realising the hopeful possibility of churches. But it is not enough!

Each evening we have a short 'Perspectives' session to hear from individuals or groups about their particular experience as Christians@Work. Tonight it was the turn of young people fresh from the Mission Impossible! International work camp in Amsterdam. Four of the team introduced the three community projects they helped with, and talked of what they have learned about mission and about cultural diversity.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Christians@work - Tuesday

A swallow circled above our heads in the main conference hall. We sat with the doors open, despite the cold, in the hope that it would find its way out. Our keynote speaker, Ann Morisy, took this example of compassion, a hallmark of our species, as the launch pad for today's theme: Pitfalls and Possibilities

(By the time we came back from coffee the bird had found its escape, to our relief, and perhaps also to yours!)

As human beings we are capable of imaginative, compassionate response towards others, yet anxiety is a major pitfall. The Mennonites, with their strong commitment to peace also understand anxiety because anxiety threatens peace. When we are anxious we tend to react instinctively rather than respond maturely. We gather with those who are like us and readily find enemies and scapegoats. We distance ourselves emotionally and our capacity for compassion is diminished. Our behaviour becomes extreme and unyielding.

By a quirk of conference planning, this behaviour was admirably demonstrated during the evening session as we played out a simulation game in which different tribes, with different credal beliefs, acquired and fought each other for land on 'creed island'.

A Christian's calling is to become a non-anxious presence. We need to be aware of what triggers anxiety in ourselves and others, and to be able to lessen it rather than aggravate or escalate it.

Possibilities open to us when we act in the way of Jesus... even just a tiny bit. We can step into a world of abundance and experience a cascading of grace. It starts with our asking ourselves the searching questions 'could I...?' 'should I....?' By these questions, we face our anxieties and embrace new possibilities. We may dare to take risks on behalf of others - particularly those whom no-one values - and so discover the essence of our work as Christians.

Mostly we live, by habit and culture, in an 'economy of scarcity.' We are alert to risks, fearful of competition and aware of the need for strategic thinking. The alternative is an 'economy of abundance', which gives meaning and significance to what is modest and humble. It encourages openness and a free imagination. It looks beyond the business of survival and invests in human relationships. Can we truly believe in the economy of Gods abundance? Can we live it?

Our work - whether in employment, in the home, community, church or whatever, should be an opportunity to make our best contribution, rather than an opportunity to further our own success.

A lot to ponder in the afternoon as I walked the coastal path to the village of Llangrannog and beyond.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Christians@Work - Monday

'Window on the World' is a week of sharing, learning and fellowship among Christians in the family of churches that make up the CWM (Council for World Mission) European Region. This includes two of our parent denominations at St David's Uniting Church - namely the United Reformed Church and the Presbyterian Church of Wales.

As a family we are by now seasoned Window on the World go-ers and it was good to be back once again at the Urdd Centre at Llangrannog for this year's conference on the theme 'Christians@Work'. Over a hundred people gathered, from toddlers to octogenarians, and coming from England, Scotland, Wales and from South Africa, Tuvalu, Singapore, Madagascar, Korea and Germany.

After settling in and eating supper, our first session was one of introductions and setting the scene. Daily, all-age worship will be lead throughout the week by Prince and Cheryl Dibeela. Both are ordained ministers of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa and Prince is currently the Moderator of CWM. Worship was woven into the introductory session, along with activities to encourage people to mix and get to know one another.

Arrangements for the various children's groups that run in parallel with the main conference sessions were explained at a meeting for parents.

Finally Christians@play - evening entertainment of games, barn dancing for the young and the young at heart.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Holiday Club '11 - Friday


The opening activity gave the kids a chance to write down what they'd enjoyed most during the week, whether a song, game or activity. They wrote them down on cut out leaves and apples which were then stuck onto a large drawing of a tree through a relay race.

Keeping in with the day's theme of new creation, the children were given pictures of themselves (taken earlier in the week) to "recreate" using paper, pens, scissors, glue and their imaginations. They had one picture of their whole body and another of only their faces. Finished products included Elvis, aliens, a dalek, a flower, various animals and Marge Simpson.

The next activity provided a bit of freedom as he kids chose to do either chalk pictures, paint pictures, or chalk pictures outside on the patio slabs.

We ended the morning and the week, with the presenting of certificates. Every child and helper received one as a thank you for their contributions. We were also shown a presentation (a work in progress) of the week in pictures with the song "As we go now" (Fischy Music) playing in the background. I must admit that a few of us helpers had tears in our eyes by the end, much to the kids' amusement.

In the evening, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and church-goers had the opportunity to see the creations of the week, with food and a few activities - not necessarily for the younger ones. A couple of the favourite songs were also showcased, and more tears were had as we watched the presentation again, now nearer completion. All in all it was a brilliant and memorable week!