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Makes you think August 4, 2009

Posted by John Stephenson in Young people.
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There was an interesting contrasting piece in the Times on Friday. Two articles – one reporting on Camp Quest – an atheist camp helped financially by Richard Dawkins (Britain’s first atheist camp) and a CPAS Venture Christian holiday (helping children keep the faith). The two articles offer an interesting contrast especially for someone devoting two weeks to running such events this summer. Ruth Gledhill sums up the two articles quite well on her blog here

I have long felt that there is nothing particularly Christian or even spiritual about the residential experiencs. The former Soviet Union used Pioneer Camps as part of their strategy for training youngsters in their ideology. But there is something about the what happens when you put a group of young people together. However in that atmosphere we can create space for open honest questioning and investigation – that is what I experienced most last week.

Of course – I believe God was at work but i counted it a real privilege to be with such a great group of people on holiday with God as a natural part of all we did. I was again struck by the relevance of the Bible for all time.

Does God Get Angry? 2 July 2, 2009

Posted by Andrew in Bible.
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A colleague of mine lent me a book called ‘Show Them No Mercy’ Which is a great title (It was published by Zondervan in 2003) . It’s a series of articles about the Canaanite Genocide and how we respond to the passages in the Bible that attribute this genocide to God. It’s not always comfortable (or easy) reading. But I’ll quote for you a story one of the writers recounts:
‘A former student shared with me the sad story of his father, a dedicated lay leader of an evangelical church, who in mid-life set out to read the Bible through for the first time. He was first surprised, then shocked, and finally outraged by the frequency and ferocity of divinely initiated and sanctioned violence in the Olt Testament. About half way through the book of Job, he shut his Bible never to read it again and has not set foot inside a church since’.

Now I kind of want to scream ‘ What do you mean he was only just reading it for the first time? He was a lay leader!’ But how many times do we read or wrestle with these passages? do we try to hide them or skip over them so that young people we work with won’t be put off.

They’re not easy but they are there, and if we want to avoid future leaders who are in our care having a similar experience to the one described above, I suspect we’ll need to think through how we help them engage with these texts rather than ignore them.

Flickering Pixels June 30, 2009

Posted by John Stephenson in Media.
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Flickering PixelsI discovered that Shane Hipps has written a new book on relating to the digital worls. Its sub-title is ‘How technology shapes your faith’. Shane writes clearly and there are some stimulating ideas – not all of it new. I am at a synposium in a couple of weeks ‘Christianity in the Digital Space’ where I hope we might get further thinking done.

Anyway my plan is to post my thoughts and summaries on the book here over the next week or so – return here regularly for updates. If you have the book why not read along with me and post your thoughts.

In the meantime perhaps we could start with a question: ‘Does technology shape your faith?’

What are we aiming for? June 7, 2009

Posted by Andrew in Young people, Youth Work.
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As a child I was a regular member of Miss Kerr’s Bible Class. Miss Jean Kerr was a faithful and godly woman who ran the Bible class at St. Richard’s church for many years. Each week we had all the usual stuff – Bible stories illustrated in glorious flannelgraph, CSSM choruses, a promise box, sword drill (it was to do with the Bible – I’m not THAT old) and stories of missionaries from round the world. If any of those things mean nothing to you then

a) you are probably under 40
b) go check them out to see what cutting edge childen’s work looked like in the 1970’s.

However, I’m very grateful to Miss Kerr for at least 3 things

a) She instilled in me a discipline of Bible study
b) She encouraged us in small acts of leadership that engaged us and stretched us
c) She would constantly say things like, ‘And perhaps one day you too will travel the world telling people of Jesus’.

Miss Kerr brought us up with high expectations of what God might want us to do. Becoming archbishop or translating the Bible into previously unwritten langauges seemed only a step away. I might not have achieved those – yet. But I’m regularly reminded of her words, and her expectation that God would use us for great things.

What are our expectations for what God will do with the young people we work with? How often do we sew the seeds of ideas of achieving great things for God?

Thanks Miss Kerr.

Does God get angry? May 11, 2009

Posted by Andrew in Youth Work.
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I’ve noticed a bit of a trend amongst some youth workers I mix with. They are so keen to present God as always loving, always gracious, always forgiving, always pleased with us, always affirming us that the end result can be a rather benign passive God – the old man in the sky smiling at us idea.

Now I know that many of these people talk about God’s anger at injustice , poverty the environment and other big global issues. But what about on a personal level. Does God sometimes get angry or upset with his children when they sin? Does he discipline his children and ‘prune them’ to produce better fruit? Or are these images of God that are a bit too uncomfortable to our western mindset?

I don’t want a return to preaching a fire and brimstone God who just wants to punish us and has to restrain himself . But as often happens in the church we seem to swing from one extreme to the other. God’s either always angry with us or never. Is that really the best way for us to teach the next generation?

So how would the young people you work with describe God, and what might that say about the balance of teaching they get?

Keeping Going May 8, 2009

Posted by Andrew in Youth Work.
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Not long ago I was wandering through the Byzantium Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Along with all the icons and artefacts was a painting depiciting Monks on a ladder to heaven. They walked up a precarious ladder towards God whilst small devils tried to drag them off with long hooks.

The obvious message was the challenge to avoid temptation and keep on to the end of the journey. But was fascinated me was that some of the devils were succesful in pulling monks off the ladder, but not just the ones at the bottom starting out, but some at the top who were so near.

It was a really honest reflection on the challenge of keeping going in the Christian life and it’s just as easy to fall away due to temptation as an old timer as a fresh faced young enthusiast.

This theme came up again at a recent Scripture Union Conference when we looked at the life of Gideon, and the challenge was given to ‘End Well’.

We’re often good at starting and think about the middle of the journey, but it got me to thinking what is it I’m doing now to make sure I end well (hopefully not for may years).

God is back May 4, 2009

Posted by John Stephenson in Media, Youth Work.
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God is back

God is back

A couple of economists have written a book – ‘God is back: How the global rise of faith is changing the world’. The brief description says

‘Since the Enlightenment, intellectuals have assumed that modernization would kill religion, and that religious America is an oddity. This title argues that religion and modernity can thrive together, and that the American way of religion is becoming the norm.’
The book also promoted a really interesting article about this issue in the Times on Saturday – summarising much of the content. You can find that here.
One of my questions is really around how much of this takes account of two issues
a) Globalisation and
b) the world of young people.
Although they may not influence politics they do have the power to shape the future. As Bono sings on the latest U2 album ‘ Each generation gets the chance to change the world’. What will today’s young people do and how will today’s youth workers help them? Perhaps that is the biggest challenge of all

Faith Schools and Neutrality April 20, 2009

Posted by John Stephenson in Education.
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The 5live phone in this morning did it’s normal trick – got me cross!  The subject was faith schools and apart from  Nicky Cambell being provocative ( I know it’s his job) I found the quality of contributions mediocre.

We had the ‘I don’t want my taxes to pay for religious schools’ – because of course religious people don’t pay taxes!. We had the children are being indoctrinated comment – as if the alternative to a faith school is some sort of neutral value free education.

When are we going to wake up to the fact that the alternative to faith schools is not neutral but a set of other values altogether. The choice is between a set of values – some influenced by a faith perspective – others equally influenced by a different set of values – often unspoken secular ones. We need to be honest and open about our values – at least that’s what faith schools are doing.

I think ‘Indoctrination, Education & God’ should be compulsory reading for all in Education. At least then we’d begin to be alerted to the reality of what lies behind our approach to education.

When Christians have worked out why being involved in education is a good thing for all the students in their care, when they can articulate why the values that underpin their approach to education are not just about passing on faith but about helping all to reach their God-given potential, then the dialogue can really begin. Let’s do that and speak out firmly because to keep quiet is to ignore the needs of the young people we supposedly care so much about.