Please Don’t Label Me

Don't Label Me campaign

It’s quite ironic that the latest Atheist Bus Campaign billboard posters feature children of a well-known Christian musician. Made me laugh anyway.

Seriously though, I do believe that the campaign has a point. Children should not be labelled by their parents’ beliefs (whether that’s Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Humanist). My Northern Irish childhood would have been very different if children of Catholic and Protestant children were not segregated into different ghettoised schools. (Although how much of this segregation was a product of ethnic rather than religious divisions is debatable).

Parents ought to be able to communicate their own worldview and values to their children. The most sensible parents will obviously encourage their children to be inquisitive and open to different ideas. They will know that it is counterproductive to bring up children in a narrow and restrictive environment, whatever the parents’ beliefs.

But let’s not build stereotypes of adults either. People who have a religious faith are often just as open to other people as those who have a non-religious worldview. Let’s all promote acceptance of diversity, even if others don’t share our worldview.

Emerging Church

In parallel with our church re-evaluating our activities and direction recently, I’ve been reading a bit more about the “emerging church“.

Some characteristics of the emerging church really appeal to me:

  • Outward-facing. The technical term for this is “missional”, which really means that everyone in the church has an active part to play in their communities, culture and world.
  • Authentic. What we do should be real and honest, and should encompass all of our lives. There is no room for “Sunday Christianity”. Church should not be a rigid structure, but willing to change to accommodate the needs of people.
  • Open. There should be respect for and dialogue with people who don’t share our views, in an honest and open environment. The church should explore and
  • Respect for the old and the new. Contemporary Christianity can often be a bit like “that song was written in the 1990s, so last decade…”, whereas emerging Christianity realises that traditions through time can speak to us. The emerging

As you would expect from a movement that has grown out of 21st century culture, the emerging church has a very strong presence on the web. There are a lot of blogs, and I particularly like:

Tall Skinny Kiwi – Andrew Jones from Orkney.
The Rubicon – well thought-out discussion on a wide range of topics, with it’s roots in the Salvation Army.
Brian McLaren – one of the main thinkers in the emerging movement.

What does church do?

At our church we are reviewing everything that we do a, trying to see how we need to adapt and change.

Last night we were looking at the question “what does a church do?”. Our group started to list all the usual things: evangelism, worship, prayer etc. But we felt that there was something limiting in the language – there were pre-conceived notions of how we “do” these activities. So we decided to experiment with new language. So what does church do?

  1. The primary aim of church is to enable people to have an experience of God – wherever that occurs on a person’s journey of faith. This might involve exploring the concept of faith with a friend, praying alongside someone going through a difficult time, or sharing a time of worship and contemplation with a group of people.
  2. We also have an opportunity to demonstrate spiritual thought leadership. This adapts and subverts a business concept. It means an opportunity to change the way that people view the world through relating spiritual concepts to everyday life. Traditionally this would be called “prophecy”.
  3. Part of our role is to challenge boundaries. This means stretching and challenging people within the church to think outside their traditional comfort zone, but also challenging those outside the church.
  4. We have a responsibility to care for others and work towards their wholeness. This can mean that we speak up for those who have no voice, locally or around the world. We treat others as individuals and we refuse to stereotype.
  5. Finally, the very nature of the church is one that forms networks and communities. The church is a community of people that is open to and welcomes people from outside the community; it also reaches out through individuals to countless other networks.

Those of us in our group found that thinking about new language was quite refreshing (although a sense of irony was mandatory). The most interesting thing was the strength of the negative reaction from other discussion groups!

Easter Rising

Interesting article in Third Way this month, where Theo Hobson calls for an anarchic Christian carnival in Hyde Park on Easter Sunday. The event would be called Easter Rising*.

The idea is to change our culture’s view of Easter, and the message surrounding it, but not to plan, control or organize the event (no matter how tempting this would be to our control freak Christian leaders). The aim is:

“To change Easter from the non-event anti-climax of a tradition-minded middle-class in a religious subculture.”

“To confront the core problem – that Christian culture is offputting to the secular majority.”

Theo Hobson has floated this idea since last summer in the Guardian and at Greenbelt.

I hope it catches on.

* coincidentally (or not) it is also the 90th anniversary of the other Easter Rising

Bono’s prayer

Bono was the keynote speaker at the USA 54th National Prayer Breakfast this morning. (A very strange event indeed, particularly to Europeans who think that the US has a separate church and state.)

Bono said some challenging and inspiring things:

On faith:

…religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

On justice:

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

And he challenged the US to increase aid to 1% of national income:

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away
from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

Read his full remarks. Inspiring.