Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin


To counter balance my last blog post about RT Kendal here is another Christian blog post:

http://bethwoolsey.com/2013/10/3-reasons-i-quit-loving-the-sinner-and-hating-the-sin/

They are attacking the phrase “love the sinner, hate the Sin”. Now I am all for controversially attacking a phrase that is popular for some kind of effect and then putting forward a view that is basically the same as the phrase but the phrase “done properly”. It’s lovely, its Hegelian and as a result obviously I have to disagree with everything it says and defend the phrase.

See this blog post is trying to show how most people who use that phrase “Love the Sinner, hate the Sin” actually get the second part right but the first part wrong. In fact they usually add some logical argument such as “Sin is bad for people, if I hate the sin then really I’m being truly loving to them. Instead of “Love the Sinner AND hate the Sin” they really believe “Love the Sinner BY hating the Sin”. And so instead they spend all their time hating sin and telling people off for wanting abortions because “It’s for their own good”.

But this phrase isn’t about that, it’s about showing that the dichotomy is possible, it’s possible to both love the individual whilst hating some of what they do. This is an important aspect of what love is. I don’t care if the origins of the phrase were something Augustine said about himself, this thing is just true and its true whether or not you’re a Christian. (Although I think much easier to do if you’re a Christian).

But yeah, you need to do more work. Just because it’s possible to love an individual whilst hate what they are doing, doesn’t mean you’ve finished understanding how to go about loving someone else nor go about understanding how to go about hating someone well. And I think I’ll attack it from two angles.

Hating the Sin is actually liberating for the individual.

There is a complication here that I’ve talked about before and I think all Christians get wrong from both liberal and conservative backgrounds. Actually us Christians and them non-Christians agree a hell of a lot on the nature of “Sin”. Yeah we’ll disagree on some specifics, we might disagree on, to use a last psychiatrist’s phrase, whose genitals you’re allowed to lick . We might disagree on how you should spend your Sunday morning. But by and large many of us will agree that it exists and its bad.

Yeah there are moral relativists out there. There are philosophers who will try and argue why it might be ok to murder in specific circumstances. But sit down and watch Jeremy Kyle every day that you can for a few months and count how many times, when Jeremy lays into an individual and calls them a horrible person, they respond with “you have your morality and I have mine, who are you to judge me? Why should I accept your moral standard?”

One time I saw someone kick back at Jeremy, “Who are you to judge me, you’ve done worse in your life?”  . Jeremy responded with “yeah but this isn’t about me and I’ve apologised for it (or words to that effect, this is from memory, if you don’t trust me go ahead and watch it yourself!)”. But even then, they both agreed to a strict moral authority but the only attack was that Jeremy was a sinner and therefore not in a position to judge. (Admittedly the link is the daily mail and so should be taken with a pinch of salt!)

Take a look at this video which I will probably post again and again on this blog:

You see the problem of sin here. You see the problem sin on all the faces of the fathers who had let down their children. They KNOW they are a sinner, but what hope do they have? Counselling? A lie detector test? But then this show, shows you a deeper truth. There is one way of dealing with the problem of sin, you can watch people who are worse then you and yell at them for being worse then you. You can say “I am a sinner but at least I’m not as bad at X and I’ve done my bit in publically shaming X”.

This brings us to the way of the world.

Love those that deserve to be loved.

Anton LeVay was very clever with his Satanic bible. He got to the root of what it was in Christianity that was so appalling to him and wrote about it in a way that actually everyone would agree with. Unfortunately he added loads of weird magic that makes it seem less credible.

But Satanists tend to be nice people. They believe strongly in love those that deserve to be loved but if someone slaps you round the face, don’t turn the other cheek, punch them in the nose! As a result they will spend their lives earning and deserving their love. This is the heart of what everyone thinks and why wouldn’t you? Why would you love someone who doesn’t deserve it? How could you survive if you acted like that?

Love those that do things worthy of love, and hate those that to do things worthy of hate.

This is the principle people live by. Yeah they will disagree on what those things are worthy of hate. For some people, you can have sex with whoever you like but you must never cheat! For some feeling jealous about your partner’s consenting sexual actions with other people is the source of why you are hateable. Some might hate homosexual people whereas others will hate people who hate homosexual people. Some hate a race whereas other hate racists. Sometimes it might those people who take up too much space on the tube at rush hour.

Whatever it is most people treat morality as a litmus test of whether or not I should treat that person as an equal human, or whether or not I should write them off. As batman says, it doesn’t matter who you are, its what you do that defines you.

Why Christians get this wrong – actually all people hate sin.

Conservatives will tell me that they believe in an objective morality. They will tell me that this position is unpopular with people “out there”. Everyone is a moral relativist. Meanwhile liberals will tell me that Christians are too judgemental and actually homosexuality is ok.

Both positions are wrong. People do believe in right and wrong but they are no longer looking to the Church to tell them what is what. Very few LGBT activists are going to be looking to the church to help them understand whether or not homosexuality is ok. No, most of these people will have made up their mind on the issue of homosexuality (that it is fine) and are only quizzing the church, not to find out how the church judges them, but to find out how they should judge the church!

People hate Sin. People see Sin everywhere and they hate it. We just disagree on what counts. The problem is, that hating Sin will almost always inevitably lead to seeing Sin in your own life and to some degree a level of self-hatred or guilt. Many people would in fact celebrate feeling guilty as a sign that you are a good person.

This blog misunderstands that most people know they are sinners and feel trapped by Sin. Love the Sinner hate the Sin is not something that should make people feel judged but liberated.

A liberated view of Sin

Someone I know hurt one of my friends a great deal. I spent a bit of time talking to this person and they asked me why I was being nice to them at all given what they had done and what they had done to my friend. Surely I’d judge them as a “bad person”. I told this friend (non-Christian) that I was judging them… but I had judged them as a bad person long before. I believe in no sex before marriage and so to some degree anyone who has sex with more than one person is a slut and worthy of death. Probably even more so I believe the same about anyone who has ever looked at pornography. I believe the same thing about people who disrespect their parents or put any other God before the one true God. So this new thing they had done that had hurt my friend, couldn’t lower my opinion of them.To some degree they found this attitude liberating and kind of comforting!

(Note: I don’t come out very favourable when I’m judging myself either!)

And I think it is. With most people who love you conditionally you’re kind of waiting for the time when you finally cross the line and they hate you. Maybe it will be some political opinion, maybe it will be how you treat people in relationships, maybe it’s because you act rude in a situation or maybe it’s because you’re too fussy about politeness. But here, this person already crossed the line.. And all people who interact with me can know that they have crossed the line, I think they are a “bad” person.

But what next? Do I hate all bad people like the rest of the world did? Possibly, but if I did that I’d hate everyone including myself. If that’s what I have to do, then so be it but fortunately there is a way out. “Vengeance is mine, so saith the Lord”, I can pawn off that hatred onto God. He is the ultimate judge anyway and so I can say “well I won’t carry out the hatred even though to some degree these people deserve it, God can do the hating instead”. Then God goes ahead and does something weird with my hatred. He puts it all on the cross and somehow justifies people. It’s all a bit confusing and I haven’t fully got my head round it but the important thing is I don’t need to hate people anymore.

But that is my choice, love everyone unconditionally or hate everyone conditionally. There is no middle ground.

I’ve always thought this about the Westboro Baptist church with their “God hates fags” placards and their belief that hurricanes are caused by America’s acceptance of homosexuality. The problem with these people is not that they are too extreme, but they are not extreme enough! They would probably be better off including a placard that says “God hates everyone, especially me”! And then try and find a way to live like that.

How do we go about loving people

Now we get to a point where me and the initial blog post might actually agree. But this is a difficult question, how do you go about loving people?

Love I think is one of those complicated things where it is really difficult to define, but when you look at a specific situation its really easy to see “Is this loving or not?”. Especially the “not”, when someone does something to you or to someone you care about that isn’t “loving” you tend to just know. But if you had to write a rule book so that you could completely define what it was, it would be tough.

Enrich Fromm in his “Art of loving”  saw love more like an art, like playing an instrument or getting good at painting. It was a skill that you practised and got better at. It was a skill where you considered the theory both through reading and discussion but then tried to apply it.

This blog posts concept of seeing someone as a neighbour and looking at how Jesus treated people certainly helps at how to love people. This is something worthy of discussion. And as I’ve said before, the blog post is definitely attacking a certain type of Christian who uses that phrase as an excuse to not be loving, that I believe ought to be intellectually attacked.

But now I’m starting to agree with someone so I better end it here. Enrich Fromm is likely to pop up again!

(Also the original blogger has written a follow up. http://bethwoolsey.com/2015/06/an-update-3-reasons-i-quit-loving-the-sinner-and-hating-the-sin/ I don’t have much to say, I kind of like it except when she goes back to wanting us to actually stop using the phrase, but most of her criticism are certainly valid).

End

There was a song that says a guy loves me “just the way I am”. No one wants this. I want to be loved DESPITE the way I am. The way I am is hateable but I want… no need the love anyway. This is why being able to love the sinner and hate the sin is important because if it can’t be done then all is lost.

What the church of 2015 should care about


To my churched friends…I just read RT Kendal’s letter to the church in 2015. In UK RT Kendal was a great and big deal. I wonder if this is now “old-guard”. RT Kendal is writing a letter to the church of 2015 but I think it might still be the church of 1990 or 1940 that’s he is writing to.

Found here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/June-2015/The-letter-of-RT-Kendall-to-the-UK-Church

1) He talks about not “watering down the gospel” or “don’t try and say stuff that makes people like you but instead be true to the gospel”. But I feel like we in the church and everyone else in society has moved past that. In the turn of the century it was almost normal to be a Christian but not believe that God even existed. But now, personally I think thanks to Richard Dawkins, it’s even easier then ever to voice extreme views about the Gospel to non-christians. No one will get that offended about hell, about “there is only one right answer” or even miracles. Yeah, if you make it your job to use philosophy to argue that Christianity is true, you’ll get people saying that your views are offensive as a rhetorical ploy but if you speak to normal human beings they simply won’t care, they will expect it and maybe see it as a fun quirk.

Yeah people will be upset if you talk about homosexuality being a sin or abortion. But these are not issues central to the gospel. Some people in the Old Guard see it as a proxy battle for an “authentic gospel” but its just not. It’s a minor theological disagreement because even if homosexuality is sinful there is no excuse for the homophobia and suffering homosexual people have suffered at the hands of society and encouraged by the church.

2) He talks about combining the “Word” and the “Spirit”. For the past few decades there has been a battle raged between the “Charismatics” and the “Cessationists”. Yeah it still exists but by and large the charismatics have won. There are so many churches now guided by both word and spirit. So many places you can go where someone will pray for you in power and preach from the word with proper theology.

Yeah its true that you can still find churches that dislike anything to do with the spirit, you can see some churches that are just weird and ignore common sense and the word and you can find liberal places that don’t believe God exists. But the variety in the church is not a bad thing… the church as a whole has moved so much in the right direction, RT Kendal has won.

So what should someone like RT Kendal say to our generation? To the church of 2015?

I think “surprised by hope” is far more important by Tom Wright. Our church needs to take the spirit and the word and go. No longer merely to “win souls” but to bring about God’s kingdom. Our church needs to be a church motivated by, guided by and known for Love.

I remember doing a prayer room at a student music festival. The LGBT “lot” (I don’t mean all LGBT people are just one group but at university there was this group that stuck out, were involved in lots of student politics and were all friends with a degree of influence) used to use our area as the place they hung out. Before the event something in the news had happened where some Christian person had something about homosexuality and lots of student non-Christians warned us that the LGBT lot might get angry at us and speak to us about it.

Well they came, quite a few of them and they really seemed to love it. That group seemed to be the most noticeable group of non-Christians that took that prayer room seriously. They didn’t ask us to “pray the gay away” but instead were coming with issues of self-image, anxiety about university, help with their relationships. Just normal stuff that people care about because even though they dressed a distinct way they were just people like any other. If they had asked any of us the biblical position on homosexuality, and they really wanted to know, we would have told them without watering down the gospel (It would be a reasoned answer, mix with contradiction and disagreement on the various views but definitely not a “its just fine”). But they didn’t because its just not the most important thing in either of our lives.

Our church needs to be a church known for its love. Everyone should know that whatever background you come from you’ll find love here and real love, love that is FOR them, that cares about them, love that brings about change and healing, love that beckons in God’s kingdom. That should be the primary thing we know about. We can do that with the power of the spirit and we can do that with the inerrancy of the scripture still intact.

We need more Christians in our communities, anyone who is on the verge of suicide, anyone who has had a tough break up, anyone who is struggling with office politics, or self-identity should know that the Church will be FOR them, we’ll love them even if we disagree with them, even if we live our own lives a very different way. We need Christians in politics fighting for politics based on love. In the crusades the Franciscan monks helped the crusaders but then would also go over to the Muslim camps and help them (This might be wrong I can’t find my source). The “Christian” view on Israel and Palestine should be to love Israel and to love Palestine. The Christian view on ISIS should be to love those being persecuted but to love ISIS. When 1 person beheads another, 2 people die.

I think us Christians growing up in this post- mainstream charismatic evangelical church need to remember RT Kendals… but also break free of them… their battles are not our own, this is a new time with new challenges for the church.

Canon Andrew White says the main thing his church needs to do is love, love, love.

Supporting Individuals in their Pursuit of God


As I’ve said a bunch of times, we are Common Nonsense have been thinking about why we are doing any of the things we’re doing. There seems to be quite a bit of mileage in the line “Supporting Individuals in their Pursuit of God”. Me and Adrian have spoken lots about it and chatted other others in CNS and around CNS but I’ve been struggling with how to actually write any of this down. There is just so much to unpack:

  • What does pursuing God mean and how do we go about doing it?
  • What does it look like when we pursue other things than God? Is that bad and what does it mean?
  • Why Individuals compared to something else?
  • Does Common Nonsense count as a collection of individuals that need to be equally supported by common nonsense?
  • Who does the “supporting?” Is it Common Nonsense? Is it some new system? Is it just the church?
  • Is this just a line? Just some clever marketing, does it make any difference? Practically what impact does this tagline have?
  • If this is a big deal then why aren’t other people going on about it? Are other people going on about it? Have other Christian groups just got it wrong or are they basically doing the same thing and we’ve just wrapped it up with a new
  • Is this something Common nonsense has invented itself or is it based on something?

I think this tag line is based on a frustration with how churches and Christian organisations are acting at the moment. Time and time again I’m meeting orthodox committed Christians who feel that the church is just not the place for them. Meanwhile we’re working with lots of Christian organisations and whilst they do fantastic stuff they make mistakes and there seems to be a pattern. There is also a book by A W Tozer called The Pursuit of God which you can download for free which I think talks about one half of this.

So here are a couple of examples, pictures or stories that describe what excites me about setting “Pursuit of God” as the goal. I’ll then try and explain why the Individuals bit of the tagline is so important.

Being able to be nothing – and know that God loves me and that that is enough (Its not) – Job

A while back I tried to start my own company. Just as I was doing it a girl who I would soon be dating asked me “Why are you doing this? What do you want to get out of life”. She was a bit of a hippy and I felt like she was presenting me two options, one being the right option. A) “I am starting a business to make loads of money” B) “I’m starting a business so that I can help people” where B was the correct option.

Whether or not she actually thought that is irrelevant. That’s what I felt. It matters that we would soon be dating only to show that this question was not academic. I felt like my answering this question correctly was important to being socially accepted by her. This scenario is played out quite a bit in churches. The person might not be deciding on whether or not we should date but still the same thing of whether or not they will accept me in their social circles.

I responded that I wanted to be someone who could in theory be hated by everyone, a complete failure at everything I do, pathetic in every way alone on my floor and crying and then know that God loves me and that that’s ok. I said this a while back and one person jokingly mentioned that it seemed like I wanted to be like Job. I don’t know. I obviously don’t want all those things to happen to me! And I don’t know if “God loves me and that is enough” is quite what Job saw.

But what is interesting about this is that if I wanted to be successful, this method would probably work quite well at making me successful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker spoke quite a bit about how much bargaining power you get when you just don’t care. Anxiety about failure tends to encourage failure. There is a line from CS Lewis “Aim for the world and you’ll get nothing, Aim for God and you’ll get God and the world thrown in with it”. It was quite a useful thing to make me more successful.

I think the thing that is interesting to me here is how wrong I was!

“Know that I am loved by God and that that is enough”. It sounds too similar to the many many orthodox Christian who spend so much time focusing on salvation and nothing else. Or in the words of Tozer, “have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insist that if we have found him we need no more seek him”. I don’t want to know that God loves me… I, like Paul to the Phillipians, want to know God. Knowing that he died for me and knowing that he loved me are all part of that. But I can keep on knowing him more and more. Knowing that he loves me is just the start.

The rest of that journey is the continuing pursuit of God.

I am a friend of God – Moses, Adrian and Common Nonsense.

The Israelites had been marched out of Egypt after all the plagues happened and they had seen God do a bunch of pretty crazy stuff. They get to Mount Sinai and the leaders of the tribe went up with Moses. However in Exodus 20:

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses went on and just hung out with God. He asked God to show him his glory. He got incredibly close to being truly in the presence of God. This is very cool and the Israelites missed out on this because they were scared. Instead they got a bunch of rules.

This has been something that we at Common Nonsense have been doing with our boss Adrian. Adrian spends time with God and then comes back from that as our boss and tells us what to do. The problem is that Adrian doesn’t really like telling people what to do, and would rather be just hanging out with God whilst we don’t really like being told what to do, its just we’re scared.

Is this because we’re terrible Christians and our boss is a uber Christian? Well I’ve already written a blog post about what a good Christian I am. In fact everyone at Common Nonsense has demonstrated a huge degree of obedience to God. This is the thing. Now I am not perfectly obedient. But I am obedient enough to know that obedience is great. But God gives us something more then the opportunity for obedience. In John 15

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

My mum’s favourite song for a while was “I am a friend of God“. Its a very silly song and just says “I am a friend of God” over and over for the chorus. However its exciting.

It is not that we are “bad Christians” and my boss is an “uber christian”. We are almost as obedient as each other. The difference is that whilst God has made himself known to all of us. We have been busy with simply obeying whilst my boss has gone further and been a friend of God. Obedience is the starting point, but we can go from blind obedience to knowing our master’s business! This is not something that is supposed to condemn us but is exciting. I love obeying God, but now I can obey him and more!

This is the answer to that previous blog post about me not belonging. Before I tried to obey God, and instead the move must be towards pursuing God.

Why wanting to build towers is ok – Babel, Abraham and Isaac

This is a question that has been bugging me.

Genesis 15 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.     I am your shield,[a]     your very great reward.[b]

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c

What’s going on here?

God said to Abram that GOD was Abrams’ reward. And then Abram asks how can he receive gifts as he has no children to pass them on to? Hasn’t Abram completely missed the point here? Isn’t the gift God himself? So shouldn’t Abram be like “cool thanks God” rather then complaining? I don’t know the answer to this and I’m asking lots of people. But I do know that when Abram brings this question, this desire to have children and God answers him by promising him children. What is God doing?

(EDIT: Since writing this I have discovered that in both The Message and ESV versions this passage makes more sense as God says “You reward will be great”. Would be awesome if one of my hebrew speaking friends could shed light on this)

Later Tozer describes what happens to Isaac after he was born. “the child became at once the delight and idol of his heart”. I’m guessing we all know how that ended up!

See, Isaac was part of God’s plan. Isaac being alive and looked after by Abraham, and loved by Abraham was very much what an obedient Abraham was supposed to do. It was part of bringing about the Kingdom of God, it was part of bringing Jesus into the world it was part of everything. There is nothing disobedient about Abraham’s love of Isaac. But… even then this child became an idol that God dealt with by almost taking it away from Abraham. Tozer talks a bit about how that must have made Abraham feel.

Now I’m going to put this to one side for a moment and talk about Babel.

Building Towers of Babel in the Christian world

Adrian makes a big thing about Babel. He is very cautious about branding anything (Logos, company names, vision statements, websites) etc. As he believes that when you build an organisation, build a brand, build a tower of babel you get sucked in to maintenance mode. You get sucked into trying to maintain the organisation rather then instead pursuing God and what he wants. When you call the church “The Church of England” suddenly the reputation of that organisation and the structure matters. Christians spend days in pointless squabbles about nothing-doctrinal arguments or whether or not wafers matter to keep the unity of that organisation. Individuals in charities will be more likely to find ways to re-invent their charity rather then just let it go and let it die because its boring not needed any more.

He’s talked about this quite a bit and lots of people may agree with this but where do we go with this? Do we not make a company Common Nonsense and instead work as freelancers? Do we just keep our terrible website and smugly try and tell people its because we care about Jesus that we keep it like that?

What is wrong with building a tower of babel in the first place. There are two reasons. 1) because God knocked it down and 2) because the tower was never going to be that great. The first is what motivates most people, the second is more important.

See one thing a lot of mature Christians do, including Adrian. Is they will occasionally start telling you what it is they think God is doing or what it is they want to do. Then hold back. They go a little silent for a split second and then say “well I don’t really know, whatever God wants”. There is almost this thing where people are trying to trick God. Its like if Abraham regularly said “Hey God, this Isaac is pretty great but I don’t really care, you could kill him any one of these days as all I want to do is do what you want”. This is silly and being ok with killing your kids is not good.

This is the brilliant thing about “Pursuing God” rather then simply saying “Supporting Individuals who do what God wants”. Abraham’s journey included God stating at the very beginning the point of it all. “I am your reward”. It involved Abraham laying bare his desires to God and God giving him everything he wanted, then taking it way and humbling Abraham in a way that pointed Abraham back to the point of all this. But after this God still actually gave him what he wanted anyway! Abraham almost aimed for the world and got nothing but instead aimed for God and got the world thrown in with it.

We need to realise that when we try and create projects, churches, organisations, brands, businesses, etc. We are going to get tempted to focus on what Tozer calls “Things”. These things have the potential to distract us from focusing on God. This is scary and so some Christians run away from them, they run away from their desires and instead just talk about how they “just want to do what God wants”. I don’t know what it is we should do… but one thing we definitely shouldn’t do is hide those desires for things from God! Instead we can bring them to him and then we get to point 2.

The tower of babel wasn’t that great anyway! These guys got all excited building a massive tower but actually it can’t have been that tall. Our buildings are going to have been taller and we’ve put man on the moon! At some point those guys would have suffocated. Rather then build their tower they should have presented their desire “to build a massive tower” to God and then attempted to actually go all out.

If they would have gone all out they would have found that they couldn’t have done it without him. They would have also found that what they really wanted wasn’t a big tower but to “get to the heavens and make a name for themselves”. If they had just waited and got on team Jesus they would have actually got to heaven and made a much much bigger name for themselves (at least as part of the Church that has Jesus at the head).

John Piper’s “Desiring God” and John Eldreges’s “Wild at Heart” talk a lot about this.

As Christians we have the danger of pursuing good things of God’s kingdom above God himself. Of getting excited by evangelism itself, or preaching or healing. These things are good in themselves but putting them before God is Idolatry like any other and bad. However, despite this trying to pretend that you don’t care about these things and just care about God isn’t good enough either. You have to ACTUALLY pursue God like Abraham after he almost killed his son. Its ok to like things, just not put them before God.

Where this gets confusing – flirting with temptation or fleeing

The complication here is that if you take this line of reasoning to an extreme it gets dodgy and the question to get us there is ask the question “Should Abraham have avoided turning Isaac into his Idol? And if so would he have been able to avoid the whole sacrificing his Son thing?”

There is a danger here for this to turn into a pointless Calvinism verses Arminianism, free-will verses determinism debate. I want to avoid that and deal with the more human angle.

Pursuing God is scary. The Israelites were scared because they thought it would kill them. It sometimes leads us to areas of life that have the potential to trap us. I think as Christians what happened to Abraham is part of our fear to verbalise our desires. If we tell God that we really like Isaac then he’s going to take it away. If I tell people that I really want to get married, then God is likely to demand form us a life of singleness. I used to particularly feel like this with respect to preaching. I really wanted to preach and when I did I loved preaching but I constantly held back from asking to preach because I thought that if I did God would “humble me”. By humble me I really mean properly lay the smack down and humiliate me in front of everyone.

Even now, if a church leader asks me how I’d like to help in the church I’m much more likely to say “Stack chairs” then “preach”.

But pursuing God has to involve actually pursuing God himself and not a self-imposed stoic rejection of all things like some of the early monks.

So what I seem to be suggesting is that. Even though we know these things have the potential to become our idols. We OUGHT to go for them anyway. That people who spend their time trying to avoid sin do it out of a lack of faith in God’s ability to look after us. Where does this stop? Should I deliberately get naked with prostitutes, pay them and dance because I trust God is going to have dealt with my temptation for sexual sin? How does this reconcile with verses from Paul that ask us to “Flee the occult” or “Flee sexual immorality”?

End

So here are a couple of thoughts about pursing God that I’ve thought about. I think its more then my previous thing of knowing God loves me. Its something that Moses had on Mount Sinai and without it we have to resort to rules and “mere” obedience. Although obedience is important and included in knowing God its more then that. It is also something that is paradoxial involved with our own personal desires whilst simultaneously hindered by our desires.

Somewhere in all this will be spending time with God. There is something I’m worried about which is my lack of regular bible reading. I don’t want to get into legalistic daily quiet times but I think someone who is really into pursuing God will naturally find themselves getting into the bible lots.

I decided not to focus on the “individuals” bit. Probably leave that for another post but onwards!

This is not meant for you – My place in the Church


Disclaimer: This post is a post I’ve been quite nervous about posting. I think it comes across as much more ranty then I meant it to be. I was going work on it significantly to make a specific point. Instead I’m tagging everything “Supporting Individuals Pursue God” as a new category. I’m going to just splurg almost all my ideas in lots of little blog posts with the aim to eventually write whatever it is I’m trying to say properly. So lets see where this goes! Also, the preacher who preached this sermon is awesome. The attack I’m writing is definitely not on her, but what she said sparked something.

Recently I attended HTB’s weekend away as part of their leadership course where they train people to lead their pastorates. HTB is a very large church that has 10 services and thousands of people who attend. Pastorates are little mini-churches that HTB puts on that allow people to actually get to know people in the church and happen during the week. They are actually quite big and range from about 20-80 people. I was kind of asked in passing if I’d like to help be part of a “core team” of a new pastorate plant and one thing lead to another that meant I did the leadership course. They are massively looking for new pastorate leaders as many of the pastorates are full whilst more people are going through Alpha with no where to go.

During this course a sermon was preached that got to me. After speaking to the preacher about it she said “This is not meant for you”. I’d like to unpack this.

The Sermon

The sermon was on Hebrews 11. This is quite a famous passage where the author repeats “By faith … something awesome happened”. By faith the world was created and by faith the mouths of lions were shut, etc. It pretty much goes through everything in the old testament and says that this happens by faith.

Now the heart of what I think she was saying was that it is by faith, these things happen not by barter. Its difficult summarising 30 minutes of talking and so I may not have got it exactly correct. Faith is a very difficult concept in the bible. Its talked about very strangely and usually poetically. Lets look at this passage regarding faith which I may come back to:

Luke 17:19-20 “19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He *said to them,“Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith [i]the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 [[j]But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

I mean, what on earth is going on here? How on earth can you measure “faith” in degrees of mustard seed sizeness? In fact how can you measure faith in anything that is volume related? Now obviously this is not literal, the point is a mustard seed is small. However, the whole point is that the disciples didn’t have enough faith to cast out this demon? So having a really really small amount of faith is not enough but having a really small amount is fine? Except, although nothing is impossible this kind of demon only goes away with prayer and fasting… not faith?

In my mind there is an intuitive understanding of what faith means. I have faith in my chair to hold me up when I sit on it. Due to this faith I will sit on the chair when I want to be held up. This view of faith has within it “is certainty on the things unseen” yes… I cannot predict the future, I cannot see whether or not the chair will hold me up but it is still based on evidence. Its because the chair has done a good job in the past and because it currently looks great that I have faith in it. However, this is only part of the story of what faith is because you get verses like the one above!

Now… this preacher was saying that we as Christians tend to lack faith. If God says for us to go somewhere then we’ll say “Are you sure? I dunno, will I have enough money? Give me some money first and maybe some political power and then maybe I’ll go”.  This I suppose is apt talking to a bunch of pastorate leaders. They are about to step out into something that is potentially scary and may come to that meeting wanting some assurance that it will be ok. That HTB will support them, that fights won’t break out that they can’t deal with, etc etc. However they can’t get that assurance, they just need to step out in faith. This is a message I have heard a bunch of times in the church…

My problem with it

Maybe the word “problem” is too strong. But there was something that riled me up whilst I was listening to it. It was kind of the fact that I had heard this all before but it was more then that. It was that not only had I heard it all before…. I had been there and done that and got the T-shirt.

I have stepped out in faith. Throughout my life, if I have ever had the inkling that God wants me to move in a certain direction then I’ve done it. Usually I don’t hear from God that well so I do things that a good little Christian would do. I’ve gone out of the street and told people about Jesus including someone who tried to mug me (sort of). I’ve gone to drum and bass nights and asked random people if they wanted prayer. I’ve preached mini-sermons in school assemblies with my peers and then put on evangelistic events where I personally invited everyone with a track in my year and then announced on our school forums that essentially a revival was going to break out in our school (It didn’t). I did a gap year working for the church and did some foreign mission and then when I went to university it was for pub conversations. I did physics with philosophy simply because it would help me witness more as it would provide lots of “ins” into evangelistic conversations. I then started a company that was doomed to failure because I felt God wanted me to do it and then I got up, moved to London and moved into a ridiculously expensive lifestyle and house (relative to Manchester) without having a Job yet because I thought New Wine might say yes to a project and needed to be in London to do it. I have gotten very close to having no money and have been hungry for a bit.

And in the words of Metallica …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxZ4Z6Zo3Fk (Warning: Rude words behind this link)

Now where I am going with this, is that stepping out in faith like this is pointless without something else. I don’t know what that something else is. It could be listening to what God wants, it could be love, it could be obedience. So bare with me here… I’m probably not going to answer that question now.

Whilst I regularly succeeded at getting into long and interesting conversations about Jesus with strangers doing “Campus Evangelism”, I went out with a crippling fear that got too much for me. What was it a fear of? Failure? I never failed nor did I think I would. Embarrassment?  I used to regularly wear PVC trousers. I don’t know what it was apart from being pathetic. I lead a large number of bible studies and was leading a Christian Union hall group. It went pretty amazingly and again I quit due to emotional exhaustion. Whilst I ended up using my degree to have lots of conversations about Jesus no one became a christian. Revival didn’t break out in my school. I got so close to achieving lots of things and then I’d just get knackered and go no where. I basically achieved nothing throughout university.

There once was a time when I was doing some chemistry coursework. I remember really hating it and saying to God, “please, I want to do something else, send me to do anything, I’ll do foreign mission, I’ll go into the streets of Sutton or give my life up to the church, what do you want me to do?”. The response I got back was “Do your homework”.

See this is my problem. I am Brad Pitt speaking to his dad in Fight Club. I’ve gone and got the job, I’ve done the stepping out in faith bit, and I’m asking “What now?”. In fact if there is anything I can do to show people I’m a good Christian I’ve pretty much done it. Amongst the charismatics I can tell stories of speaking in tongues from a young age or shouting out prayers in parks at night. Amongst the social justicey people I can talk about the tears I’ve shed for palestinians or stream off lots of rhetoric about how to help the homeless. Amongst the conservatives I can talk about all the books I’ve read and impress people that I’ve read the bible.

The church has told me “Do this stuff and we’ll accept you, we’ll call you a good christian” I’ve done those stuff and what do I get?

“This isn’t for you… maybe you’ve got a problem with pride?”

Pride

I’ll divert to this question for a moment. This is a really good get out of Jail free card. I can never do enough to please the church because if I do anything in a way that they will notice they can then just say that I’m proud and need to be more humble. Actually I’ve done humility. I can actually tell you stories about how I’m the humblest of them all. I’ve stacked chairs and I’ve cleaned toilets. Apparently this is what you have to do if you want to start being famous amongst Christians  I’ve also gone to churches, kept my head down and focused on people on the fringes. This has obviously got me no where because that was the purpose…

But I feel like I detect a rat here. There is something that plato really liked about the Spartans and that British people really like. British people love under dogs and they hate proud people. Its really bad to drive a nice car around London, you’ll look foreign. How can the Apostle Paul get away telling people that he wished they were as Holy as him? Surely that is arrogant, surely that is proud? I said that to a christian once. She said “yeah and I really don’t like paul”.

Galatians 6:3-4 “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

The opposite to Pride is not Humility. Its Truth. The kings God hated in the old testament where the people who thought they ruled the world. They didn’t. God showed them. He humbled them. Pride is thinking you are above your status. Truth is knowing what status you are rightly in. Humility is then going further, knowing how great you really are and how much status you deserve from people, deliberately lowering yourself to a lower level. Pride is trying to sit at the head of the table when you’re the youngest in the family. Truth is sitting where you’re supposed to and humility is giving up the head of the table to someone else.

Do I have issues with pride? Yes. Instead of doing my chemistry homework that is “beneath” me I want to be like Paul and go out changing the world. However… I don’t think that is quite the same as what she was talking about. She was saying this in the context of me going up and telling her that all this “faith” stuff she was talking about, well I’ve done it. (Note: Not GOT it, DONE it… or at least look like I’ve done it).

SHE then congratulated ME on my faith. She said that people are not as far as me, that the leaders of the biggest church in the UK haven’t quite got to my level of great faith. That other people would love to have faith like mine. If I believed her on that I can see why she’d think I was proud. But I don’t think that is what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that all of this was meaningless… It was like chasing the wind. I was trying to say that these stories of faith are pointless. That if people set down the path of trying to step out in faith like I did they will get no where.

She said that this meeting wasn’t for me.

What is there for me?

There is something else brewing. There is something that God is doing. This thing I think will be for me. I don’t know what it is but I have a hunch and I’m going to pursue it and maybe even write about it. The thing for me is a system that helps me pursue God. Its not something that helps me serve the church. Its not something that makes me a better person through a 10 step program nor something that gives me more theology. Its something that helps me pursue God.

See in HTB there are two things for me:

1) I lead a pastorage and start serving. This will help me rise the ranks of HTB social status and I’ll then start getting access to the big guys who well help me out
2) I get a mentor. An experienced christian who works with me, chats to me and leads me to know God more.

However. 1) God doesn’t want me to. I’m pretty sure of this. I try really hard to serve the church and I know I can do it, I’ve done a great job in the past but every time I try it fails at the moment. Its because God doesn’t want me to lead a pastorage. 2) I am suspicious of this. There is a time and a place for mentoring and its really great and certainly biblical. But it puts a single person massively in control of my life. It also can tempt me to look to my mentor and not God. No whatever this system is it will not look like a single person. It will not be lead by a single priest.

I want to sit in a room with people like me who are ok with stepping out in faith (which is actually really all humans. Stepping out in faith is just what greedy people do who find a treasure in a field. Sell all their possessions to buy the field and dig up the treasure. Faith is for people who like cheating in life and want to win the lottery) and then I want to pursue God in front of them and with them. I think I could do it alone but that is not what God wants. He wants 2 or 3 people to gather in his name. This pursuing God is a corporate event and is only solitary when times are extreme.

A system that supports individuals in their pursuit of God. I am an individual and I want this system.

Where does abaraham fit into this and his faith?… Next blog post

Connecting the church around their personal passions

Connecting the church around their personal passions


Where are we going?

We at Common Nonsense have been working for a while on a couple of larger projects. However the end is getting in sight for these projects and there is a question of where we can go next and what do we want to do? There are loads of avenues that could probably be met with commercial success and more clients. This is quite cool but there is a second question we need to answer before we go ahead with it. Why are we doing this? What is the point? More money? More developers? More Clients? To what end? Ultimately our goal was broadly to use technology to help the church. So the question is for us, what is our vision for the church and how could we help it get there? There are two things that come to mind. One is practically something that is exciting for the near future and so I will try and write this one up in a little more detail. I’d love to see if there are people wanting to help out with this. The other is probably something that is more interesting in the longer term and I’ll just set the stage. The first is about connecting people across websites around their passions. The second is about connecting the church to those within the persecuted church.

What it is we do now.

For those of you who don’t know me that well, at the heart of what we have been doing technically is the Party module with Drupal. Drupal is a popular content management system but it is also a framework with which people can build websites. 2.1% of the web is powered by Drupal. It provides tools to make it easy to build web pages built around realistic data structures. If I am building a website that is reviewing theatre productions, I can do more then just categorise and tag the reviews. I can add what Drupal calls “Fields” such as a Date Field that says when the play took place. Another date range Field that tells you until when you’ll be able to see the play and other kinds of fields such as the directors, actors or writers. It then provides tools to lay this data out in lists or web pages.

Our Party module takes Drupal and turns it into something called a “CRM” system. This is like a glorified address book that collects information about people. Usually businesses use this kind of software to keep information about their customers and then use this information to market to a subset of their customers, etc. As organisations are predominantly about their people, whether its staff, stakeholders, customers or just people know about the organisation and make the brand happen, this kind of data is incredibly important. Drupal’s tools for building web pages suddenly become incredibly useful for building databases of users. The UI for adding fields to a review can be used to instead add other information about the people in your system such as their date of birth or gender. The tools for laying out pages and making lists can be used for reports on the people you work with or making workflows for managing those people. Drupal’s tools enable us to very quickly build workflows and user interfaces that show only the information the staff need to see whilst saving them time and being a joy to use (in theory!)

Because all these tools are open source software, as we develop our toolset it is going to be incredibly easy to scale this. We can use the same tools to help many different organisations. This can include Christian church networks or event organisation companies or individual churches or other forms of Christian ministries. We’ll be able to quickly provide many of these organisations tools to manage all the data on the people they interact with and save them time and money. The more organisations that sit on our platform the stronger it can become as other developers contribute both code and interesting ideas of how to use those tools.

This stuff is ok. Its the stuff of a commercial success. Saving people time and money means they will give us money. Us having money means we can pay more developers and expand faster making more money or better websites and tools which in turn make more money. But this isn’t really cool yet. It gives our business a means to exist but not a reason.

Connecting passionate people around the things they are passionate about.

Imagine a Facebook for the church.

Imagine all the things the people in the church might like. All the different groups or events that could spring out about it. I might be really excited by speaking to homeless people in manchester. Or really into youth work and online gaming or maybe I just want to battle out the theological questions of Calvinism verses Arminianism again in light of more philosophical developments. Maybe I really love apologetics and I have this cool new argument I want to try out and figure out if its any good or if its been done before. Maybe I hate apologetics and want to just go around the clubs in the cities handing out cheap flipflops to girls who have spent all night dancing in high heels and are now in a lot of pain. I could be someone who is passionate about evangelising to people walking in the park, or maybe praying for healing, or maybe prophetic. Maybe I really love the flower arrangement of the church and need to figure out how I can make them healthy without spending as much time watering them. I love working with kids but my tiny rural church really can’t fit the children that are signed up here or the youth in my youth group are from difficult backgrounds and are being quite disruptive  I want to give them a place to hang out and show them some of Jesus’ love but I can’t keep having things smashed up in my church.

Whatever you’re passionate about in the church, whatever problems you face or things you want to do about it. They all are vastly helped by being connected to the people who are similarly passionate about it. Those people may have already gone ahead and can give you support and advice or maybe they are in a similar position to you and would want to help you.

Now imagine why there isn’t a Facebook for church.

People wouldn’t gather around and do cool things together. They would fight! The Calvinists would continue to rip into the Arminians. The conservative evangelical christians would attack the  mainstream evangelical Christians on their approach to women in leadership who would attack the liberals who agree on that but disagree on the authority of the scripture who would then attack the Anglo-catholics on their attitude toward women in leadership who are in turn attacking the conservative evangelical Christians for their attitude towards Mary!

I could say that when 2 or more are gathered in Jesus’ name… there will be arguments but really even if a Church only contained one person you’d find that person bickering with themselves!

Distributed Social Networking

Our software is free open source software. As we expand our company more people will use it and then other companies may start using it for their projects. Everyone will have a similar platform. However they don’t have to agree on women on leadership to both use the same tools that help them quickly search through their database. Now, remember the Drupal fields? It becomes trivially easy with Drupal to add the field “What are you passionate about?” There could be an infinite number of things people might put as their thing as New Frontier’s found out. Suddenly every single church, Christian ministry or network could easily ask what the people they work with care about. That’s quite cool, that will probably be useful to them.

However imagine now you’re the individual who really cares about the homeless in Manchester. You might put that down in your church profile but maybe your church is quite small and whilst there are people who would be willing to help you if you badgered them enough, they aren’t passionate about it like you are. You find it frustrating because every time you read the bible you see God’s heart crying out for the poor but never see that in the Christians around you. The chances are you’d be willing to work with people who aren’t in your church. You probably don’t care about your colleague’s attitude towards predestination!

In fact I think I’ll assert this. The boundaries that the larger ministries and that the church leaders care about are rarely the same boundaries that an individual in the church cares about. This means that whilst the churches will probably not want to come together into one massive Facebook for churches the individuals within the church may want to connect with others around the things they are passionate about.

Enter Distributed Social Networking.

The Internet is really great at connecting information but computers are dumb. See if I go and look at a book on Amazon,  I am clever. I can know that the front page image is the front page of an actual book in real life that has the title as its book title and the name next to “author” as the book’s author. In fact it doesn’t take much thought to realise that a name is actually a name. For a computer this is really difficult. A computer just sees a bunch of arbitrary text and random images. There is no way a computer can know easily that those bits of data are related. RDF and the Semantic Web aim to change that. It provides little tags that tells computers what the data it is looking at is (a name) and how it relates to other bits of data (it’s the author of that book).

Combine RDF with a whole collection of organisations that store information about people’s passions and you have a potential distributed social network. See, as this information is (by choice) available to everyone on the Internet it means it is available to computers on the Internet. If its available to computers on the Internet a website could potentially collect all this information into one place. Bare with me!

Imagine an organisation that has a website including information about people. We’ll call this a node. Another website could read all this information and store it somewhere. It could read this information across multiple websites (Nodes) and aggregate them into one place. This one place could be a searchable website. We’ll call this website a Network. This Network could be a website that aggregates all people who are interested in homeless people across all the churches in the UK for example. It could aggregate every speaker who is interested in politics across all Christian events. It could aggregate every sermon preached on Romans 2 and spoken in Arabic.

The Networks don’t need to ask for permission to do this any more then a human needs permission to manually go to every website, write this information down in a notebook and then publish the notebook online. The website that has sermons on Romans 2 in Arabic could have sermons from Anglo-catholic churches and conservative evangelical churches even if those two churches wouldn’t naturally come together.

This is starting to get cool.

What it takes

Its hard getting lots of churches, organisations and ministries storing their data in a format where this would be even possible. That’s what we’re doing and we could do this anyway. Having their data on one common platform makes things cheaper for them. The second part, connecting this becomes much easier and this is what I’d like to put to anyone reading this blog. There are things that need to be done and so I’ll just list them.

  • Make it so that each node can output the data in a machine readable format (Trivially easy)
  • Make it so that each node speaks the same language! This involves creating what is called an RDFa schema. In the Amazon example we have the “author” of a book. There needs to be a common language for what the author is. I could potentially use the word “Writer” on one website and “Author” on another. A Network trying to collect this information wouldn’t know that Author’s and Writer’s are the same thing unless they both use the same language or someone tells them they are the same. This is interesting when dealing with books of the bible for example. Are Song of Songs and Songs of Solomon the same book for example? It doesn’t really matter which one you use, the only thing that matters is that everyone uses the same one..
  • We need easy to install packages for the nodes. A church website distribution on Drupal for example so that lots of organisations can easily install a similar package.
  • We also need some code for the network website. It needs to be easy to set up a website that pulls all this information and aggregates it but this has its own problems.
    • How will a network know which nodes to pull data from
    • How will it actually pull the data
    • How will it store and cache the data (if that is what it should do) and how does it know when to index the information? Will it just index the web like google does?
  • Currently I have talked about Networks as mere “Aggregators” but really we want to connect people. This presents more interesting uses of Distributed Social networking which is probably beyond RDF.
    • Can I have a discussion that is actually located on lots of sites? This conversation about Calvinism, can it be across lots of blogs that are talking about it? Something like Disquss but even more open then that. If someone comments on a post on the network (Such as the sermon on Romans 2 in Arabic). Is that comment stored on the Network? Or can a node pull that comment back from the network? Is the discussion some how spread across all these websites?
    • How about organising events across multiple churches? Maybe all the churches in New Malden can organise an event together? But then you need authentication and permissions to edit this event and there is the question of where the event exists? Which version of the event is the true event and which ones are copies?
  • An investigation into the inevitable privacy issues. How can you make it so that individuals have complete control over their own data whilst enabling all this cool sharing. How can you make sure that a 70 year old in the church may not accidently post something confidential that goes out to everyone?

Diaspora has tried distributed social networking. I don’t think its worked out well because Facebook is so much easier and people will always take the path of least resistance  This is why the Party module is so important. If churches are using the platform anyway for other things that make their life easier, they would become far more likely to opt into the cooler aspects of what we’re talking about here.

Conclusion

There is something really exciting about the Internet’s ability to connect people. There is something exciting about connecting the right people around the thing they are passionate about. There is a tremendous opportunity for this to happen if organisations are all already using the same platform to store data about people. This is hard though. Most websites that connect people do it by making sure everything is in one walled garden (Facebook, Twitter, Discussion Forums etc) and this is something that simply won’t work with the Church. I’ve outlined a technical way using RDFa and aggregators that could potentially connect people but we’re REALLY in the early stages of this! Currently we’re just focusing on building the tools to solve our client’s needs as they exist now. I’m really interested to see what others might think of these ideas and where they could go.

This is only starting to get cool. How can we make this really cool?

What I’m excited about.

I’m typing this in a different colour as this post is long and you can ignore it. I really like connecting people in the church for the sake of connecting people in the church. My boss is more interested in connecting people so that they can do something together to achieve something for the Kingdom. The focus is on people eventually doing something. What I’ve posted here is more along the lines of my boss’ interest. However my passion has always been about connecting people as the end not the means. This includes watching online communitites and MMORPGs and connecting people in the church across age groups, etc.

I have always had a real passion for reading about and praying for the persecuted church. I have done a few mission trips. A lot of the time the whole reason why that mission happens is just to show solidarity. Its really easy when you’re under persecution to feel alone in all this. Recently I read a book by Brother Andrew called Secret Believers. In it there was a letter from the Church of Afghanistan to the President of the US. They told of what it is like for them and asked for help from the Christian west. There was something so exciting by reading a letter penned by real Christians in that country.

Imagine if we built software that could connect the church and then if this software got into the hands of people who are under persecution. Imagine if I could talk to and pray with people in that church in a way that was completely safe and secure in a manner that things like the TOR network are trying to enable. Even in that book, one of the converts from Islam, who had to leave due to all his friends getting killed, ended up in a safe environment but still desperately wanted to connect with other converts from Islam. He did it through chatting on the Internet.

The technology is there to make this possible. It just requires buy in from the church. However, this is in my opinion, where we go from cool to awesome :)!

Why I’m excited by Drupal and the Church


This is another e-mail that I thought could become a blog post

Drupal and the Church in the UK

Looking at Drupal specifically many UK christian organisations are standardising around Drupal. HTB use it and employ Drupal developers, Spring Harvest use it, CCK (Church of Christ the King, big New Frontiers church in Brighton) are using Drupal more and more now. Meanwhile we’re working with New Wine and Soul Survivor (Disclaimer: whilst we are a Drupal shop, just because we’re working with them, it doesn’t mean they will use Drupal for everything . What Standardising on one technology enables churches to do is share their innovative ideas. Sharing ideas means that technology can become inter operable and achieve a greater reach and scale.

Sharing innovations on one platform

Trying to convince people to work on one platform is difficult. But that is already happening. Also everything we build we open source. Now we’re snowed under with our work on New Wine at the moment so I don’t know what the future holds for us. But hopefully when we’re less snowed under we can put effort into marketing the open source stuff we’ve done. This means the other organisations that are just using Drupal already could potentially just “slot it in” to their website.

For now we’re dealing with stuff that will probably only help larger organisations. We have a piece of work coming up to build a site that helps Sutton pray more (an area outside of London). It’s for a group that are working on increasing prayer in Sutton (linking lots of organisations and churches in that area) but the website will include a public prayer wall and a “adopt a street”. (like this http://prayadoptastreet.net/).

Now this stuff already exists but by using Drupal’s modular nature any other website that uses Drupal can just put it on their website with almost no hassle. Currently it requires a developer with a bit of Javascript and Google Maps API knowledge to do. This is exciting because by putting these tools in the hands of non-techy people they can do things we couldn’t imagine. Long term with Drupal 8 we can have better cross-site communication. So Churches could have their own “adopt a street” working alongside other church websites.

This is really small but lots of small things like this has a huge potential (methinks).

Prophecy, God and technology

The thing my boss is really excited about investigating as well is combining IT with the prophetic. We haven’t really figured out how to communicate this because its not something you can say, its more something you demonstrate. I mean, you can say it, but its so easy to say “I’m a christian company making money from christian organisations and I want God intimately involved in our work”. If you say that to christians and they believe you, you’ll make money out of it which instantly means saying it means less.

However, there is something exciting behind it. I’ve heard from both my dad and boss how they have had times when they have tried to solve a bug in their code. They had spent ages sorting through it but finally they decided to do a quick nehemiah style “arrow prayer” and after praying almost instantly found the answer.

Also technology is kinda like a language. A chunk of code is one way that ideas can be communicated between people and organisations. Prophets aren’t about control and telling people what to do because God said so. They just need to tell people and let the church choose whether it listens or not. Technology has something that is analogous.

For example we could tell a church “You should give away all your sermons for free”.

Or we could work with a bunch of churches that went to sell sermons. We could build resource and sermon libraries that you can use that allow you to categories  find and share all your resources. We can build it as a shop with a private area, subscriptions or pay per sermon and because its Drupal any church website already using Drupal can just use it.

But with the press of a button in configuration those churches can go from charging to using it all for free.

In the olden days where making more tapes or CDs cost money it was easy for churches to justify making a little bit of money on the side. When it costs them no extra to give away their talks to more people for free it changes the question from “Why do I have to give everything away for free” to “Why shouldn’t I give it all away for free?”

At no point are we dictating to churches how they should act. That church that wants to sell anything is welcomed to do so. If they use our software or pay us to do it, we would only be building the things they want. We wouldn’t use their time and money to make it easy to give things away from free. But because this is open source software we don’t have to. The functionality just has to exist out in the community (either built by us or someone else in their spare time or paid for by another church) for this to be true.

This means the things we choose to build and release could potentially impact the church. This means that every piece of code we write needs to be treated with utmost respect in terms of listening to what God wants us to do. Whether I’m running a prayer meeting for the city or writing a payment processing module for Drupal, they both have the ability to impact the church positively and both need God involved in it…

Anyways…

This is a work in progress. I’m guessing most of what I’ve said is complete rubbish and I’ll have to think about it a bit more and see where I’m wrong. Also I’m not trying to convince you of anything! But thought it might be a fun rant to read if you have a bit of a computer science background.(Disclaimer: I’m not very good with the prophetic stuff. I do what I can to listen to God but I couldn’t pin point what ideas in my head belong to me or belong to God or whether that distinction is even helpful for me. So this is another area where this rant might be wrong as I probably need to explore these ideas more)

The roots of Fresh Expressions


This is a reply to a text message about a church a friend is going to that is part of the fresh expressions that he felt is grassroots orientated. (He is right. It is, but there is an element where its not which I find more intresting). So this is the church: http://churchonthecorner.org.uk/ and this is my reply (feel free to correct me if things are factually incorrect)

One thing that is interesting about Fresh Expressions is how NOT grassroots it is! It was commissioned by Steven Croft, Graham Cray and Rowan Williams! I mean its about as top down as you can get (being something almost created by the arch bishop). Graham Cray is the guy who is Mike Pilavachi’s boss and also created Greenbelt. Graham Cray also heads up some really awesome sociological research like “making sense of generation Y” and has given quite a few talks about what a new church should look like (For example he talks a lot about how our culture doesn’t do corporate singing whilst churches that aim to be new and reaching our culture focus on mat redman style worship which is actually very counter-cultural). Stephen Croft I think was the other potential candidate for arch bishop alongside Justin Welby and he is the main person behind fresh expression. He is also Steve Wilcockson’s boss! (Steve is his number 2, an arch deacon that actually carries out his ideas in his area).

So although fresh expression churches feel all grassroots-ey its actually just the result of brilliant top-down research driven marketting!!! Which is fun because all the other “liberal” “grassroots-ey” things outside of the christian world are the same. The Pharmaceutical companies own all the health food alternative supplement brands. What is so impressive is every time I have disagreed with something the fresh expressions guys (specifically graham cray) has said I have always been wrong. Every assumption I have had about our culture (which is usually very in tune of mainstream church’s assumptions) that has been at odds with what graham cray found through his research, I have later found to be incorrect even with the people around me. I just never knew about it.

Most of his research is even better then anything in the secular world regarding generation Y. When people talk about this generation and the millenials they tend to get far too excited by the impact of the Internet and go on about that but actually there are plenty of people our age who don’t use facebook.

Fresh Expressions are really interesting. With New Wine I went to a seminar where bunches of them got together. Its really an extension of the Cell group movement that we were part of and the values behind it are really similar but Cell Groups had too much structure. The flip side is that fresh expressions haven’t quite worked out how to scale without looking more and more like traditional churches.

They are also unbelievably diverse. There is a fresh expression in Earl’s Court which is really just a bunch of people looking after homeless people using an old chapel as a base. They basically don’t do any “marketting” aimed at christians and don’t try and attract them. Another fresh expression was just on an allotement in a council estate where they did gardening and people could join them.

It goes hand and hand with the New Monastic movement which is also unbelievably cool. The new monks are so much cooler then the old monks.

So yeah, I think I’d like to come. But be warned. Its unlikely I’ll “like” it. I don’t really like churches anymore. I don’t really have oppinions apart from “How can I use technology to help this church” and “What is this particular community’s place in the global church and how can it use technology to increase its influence”

I’m sure there are some churches out there that are so bad they are nothing but toxic to the body of christ and should be completely expelled. But more often then not those churches don’t want to be part of the rest of the church anyway and become cults especially in a society where being christian doesn’t give you any real advantages. Most of the time a church that is “good” just have aspects that are good and aspects that are bad but due to your particular personality type you don’t care about the bad thigns as much and get a lot from the good things. From an overall objective point of view they are just a mixture and this fits with the way that paul pretty much lays into every one of the churches he was dealing with.

So I’ll probably both love and hate the church