London


On the train on the way home from a meeting in central London, I was reading one of those free papers they give all the train station travelers. I read those mostly for the sports stories…honest.

On the front cover of this paper was a headline that read: ‘D’oh homer_simpsonLevels: How Homer Makes You Brighter’. Now who wouldn’t want to read an article that claims watching The Simpsons can make you smarter, or as the typical Simpsons viewer might say, ‘makes you more smarterer’?

The article states, that a study done on 170 TV viewers from the US, Greece and the Netherlands, that watching TV comedy and dramas like The Simpsons and The Sopranos ‘helped viewers acquire new political insights’. Nearly 1 in 4 viewers said ‘they had a better understanding of political issues after watching the shows’ and even scarier 54% of viewers thought Homer Simpson was similar to real life people, that these fictional TV programmes were nearly as believable as news broadcasts, and that after watching the shows they discussed them with friends and adapted their political and ethical outlooks.

HUH?

So are they actually trying to say that watching these shows can be beneficial to be people from the standpoint of organizing their political and ethical beliefs? Or is this study more of a reflection about how low the comprehension of political and ethical issues in our cultures really is, that The Simpsons and Soprano’s can have a ‘positive’ effect on viewers. What’s next…a study showing that people get relationship and dating advice from Friends, Sex In The City and Desperate Housewives? Oh yeah…that probably does happen.

You can’t turn on the radio in London right now and not hear about Orange’s (a UK mobile/cell phone company) volunteerism program called Orange Rockcorps. Their bigorange tag line for the promotion is ‘Give, Get Given.’ The idea is you give 4 hours of your time, volunteering and serving on a designated community project and in return are given a ticket to a gig at The Royal Albert Hall in London. The catch? You can’t buy tickets to the gig and you don’t find out who is playing the gig until after you’ve earned the ticket and right before the show.

Music is big big business…especially in London. The music and club scene operate at incomprehensible levels…you would never run out of gigs to go and see in this city.
This is just a smattering of the line-up around the city in the next week: 22/08: New Found Glory, 22/08: Steve Lawler (DJ),25/08: The Offspring, 25/08: Wilco…Freakin WILCO!!!, 26/08: LadyHawke…all kinds of music by all kinds of artists and this is the line-up during the massive global festival season where anyone who is anyone is playing one of the bazillion festivals all over the planet. So when Orange rolls out a ‘huge gig’ at an amazing venue and it’s all super secret…who wouldn’t want a ticket, especially if your a cheap/poor student in London? Last year the gig involved Busta Rhymes, Guillemots, John Legend, Feeder and more artists.

My first thought is Orange sounds like they’re doing a pretty cool thing. Fully sponsoring what sounds like a sick gig and in doing so also sponsoring over 50 local projects and increasing volunteerism in the community. The press on this project also seems to pretty upbeat and positive.

Perhaps I’m overly cynical but is this really as good as it seems? Sure loads of work gets done on worthwhile projects…sure loads of people get involved…sure loads of people enjoy a great gig, an exclusive gig (even better, right?). I’d be really interested to find out just how many of these ‘volunteers’ continue doing volunteer work without receiving a gig ticket.

I guess I just don’t see it as true ‘volunteerism’ if you do it to get avolunteering ‘reward’: in this case a free ticket to an exclusive gig. But seriously, we live in a world where you are rewarded for good behavior, good grades, for being a good person. As a youth minister, I’ve been in too many churches and given too many talks to kids where we communicate that if they ‘live right’, make ‘wise decisions’ and ‘love Jesus’ they will be ‘blessed’, He will ‘answer their prayers’ or ‘go to heaven’…when we do mission trips, or take kids to homeless shelters we even ask kids ‘how they felt serving others?’ or talk about how ‘rewarding’ volunteering is. But doesn’t talk of ‘reward’ or ‘what you get out of it’ defeat the purpose of volunteering? Isn’t it the same with living a life for Christ? Shouldn’t we be living it as if there wasn’t a ‘reward’ or upside or benefits for us simply because of who He is? If Christ is as compelling as we say he is, we should live relentlessly, passionately and freely for Him as if there was nothing in it for us…simply because we know He is true.

Ok, back to the Orange Rockcorps. It’s a sliding scale right? This is the first step, from a secular vantage point, of creating a generation of young people who are passionate about volunteering, making a difference in their communities and serving others. If this gets even a hand full of people onto the next step I suppose that’s a good thing. I suppose I’m just not content with the ‘what’s in it for me mentality’ and tired of it seeping into our theology and spirituality. I’m also not advocating a sense ‘obligation’ for Christian living either…that will only lead to a dark and angry place. But what happens if we get addicted to the carrot? Everytime we volunteer or ‘live for Christ’ we need a bigger and bigger carrot in order to ‘reach the next level’? This will only lead to a false sense of intimacy with God and volunteering for a reward will only create a false sense of commitment to one’s community and to those we are in community with.

I’m always diggin for new music. Like Cake sang in ‘Rock n Roll Lifestyle’ way back in the day I have to have ‘the tshirt to prove that you heard of them first’. Good music always seems to sound better when no one else seems to be listening to it.

Moving to the UK has opened some new doors musically. Vinyl stores are a joy to wander through…and tomorrow I’m headed to Rough Trade…one of best ones.

But lately, what’s been playing on my ipod and my shuffle (on bike rides) is Mat Kearney’s new album ‘City of Black and White’. mat-kearney-city-of-black-whiteIts been a few years since his last and it seems to me to be well worth the wait.

The sound seems to be pretty well produced…maybe a little too good. There isn’t any tracks where he raps, which were my favorite on the last album, which is disappointing. But lyrically, I find his lyrics seem to be trying to follow the path Bono has been blazing. The lyrics seem to have mutiple layers that have cultural cache and real spiritual symbolism.

The album starts with “All I Have”.
In the first verse he sings,
“Tired of the same song everyone’s singing
Rather be lost with you instead”
This line is one of those that could be to a girl, but could be something more.

Later in the song he sings:
Oh I still trying to do my hardest
Pick us all up from the fall oh
Off the little corner of the darkness
Just a crack the light in the middle of it all

Here Kearney seems to be speaking of our tendancy to embrace grace but then still expend endless energy ‘doing it on our own’ in a world that seems dark all over and light that we long for appears to be only a sliver or a glimmer.

Closer To Love is even more intense lyrically:
She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon

And later in the song:
I’m gonna get there soon,
She’s gonna be there too
Cryin’ in her room
Prayin’ Lord, come through
We’re gonna get there soon

[Chorus:]
Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

Some critics have railed against Kearney for his song ‘Annie’ that it’s too cliche, because it’s about a girl…”“Annie” is the token weepy ballad. A song named after a girl? That never happens! (Forgive the sarcasm, but I definitely thought Kearney was above this.)” So what…Taylor by Jack Johnson is a rubbish piece of cliche trash as well?

At any rate, while Kearney’s new album seems a little more mainstream than I’d like, lyrically he has a depth that reveals a deep commitment and passion for his faith and a commitment to contextualizing in way that is relevant and challenging to his listeners, fans and critics.

I’m a big fan of Douglas Coupland, the author. His books are crazy funny and deeply insightful in regards to culture, technology, relationships and the difference between generations.

I’m re-reading Micro-Serfs, which came out in 1994…a loooooooooooooooong time ago. It’s about a group of friends who all happen to work at Microsoft and idolize Bill Gates while they sort out their lives, make meaning for themselves and try not to self-destruct.

microserfs
Because it’s written in 1994 and deeply steeped in the culture at the time it’s a bit like a walk down memory lane. One paragraph in particular got me reminiscing….and wondering…

‘Then we digressed into a discussion of how the word ‘dialing’ is itself such an anachronism-a holdover from rotary phones. ‘Inputting’ would be more true. And who came up with the word ‘pound’ for the ‘#’ symbol. Wouldn’t ‘grid’ have been easier and more fun? I mean ‘pound’?
Or think of how dumb it is too say, ‘I’m going to the record store.’
Technology!’

It made me start wondering what things technology has made obselete that are still apart of our daily vocabulary?….technology advances far faster than language, we invent new words to keep up with technology but often don’t delete old, obsolete, archaic words from our vocabulary, as evidenced by the fact that in 2009 I still say ‘Awesome’ too much.
Whats the over/under on when Blockbuster video rental places no longer exist?

It also made me realize that I miss the experience of going to the ‘record store’ and flipping through vinyl or even CDs. Especially when the other day I was walking down Berwick Ave in Soho in London and realized that is the street where the cover art for ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ by Oasis is from. Said record shop is the red door on the left by the second street light.

morningglory

Tonight on prime time TV no less, I watched coverage of the Tour Series, a national crit race series…on TV during freaking Prime Time coverage. How cool is that? This would never happen in the US…that time slot is reserved for some rubbish reality TV show…that people can’t live without.

20090616_Tour_Series_Stoke_103

Read the full coverage here.

atlantic

I never grew up near the ocean. So when I first went swimming in the ocean at Long Beach off the coast of Vancouver Island in 9 foot waves with my brother Eric in the summer of 85, I LOVED it. It was amazing. Living in CA in Los Angeles later in life and going swimming and learning to surf at Zuma, Manhattan, Churches and Tressels…it only deepened my love for the ocean and for going to beach with my family.

But right now I also hate the ocean. It is playing games with my head. This week I’m reminded that the ocean is one MASSIVE barrier between me, my family and a lot of people we care deeply for and miss.

I hate the ocean today because this spring it kept me from taking a group of kids back to a city I love, New Orleans to serve along side a man, Whitney, that I respect so deeply for his service, love and compassion for a city and for Christ.

I hate the ocean today because I miss going for bike rides with my friend Pete Troskey and getting to see the La Plata peaks at the mid point ride. I hate the ocean because it means I can’t go for a mtn bike ride with my moustached friend Coye who has only learned the joy of mtn biking since I left. I hate the ocean today because my wife and I can’t eat chips and salsa with Mike and Erin and watch our kids play with theirs. I hate the ocean today because I can’t say ‘Shoooooooooot’ and ‘Tur’ with Kelly and Daniel and laugh our heads off. I hate the ocean today because I cant enjoy a cup of Durango Joes with Chad, Stephen, Al, Shaun and a bunch of other Farmington friends. I hate the ocean today because I can’t sit with a student I miss who emailed me today saying he’s having a hard time staying positive.

I hate the ocean today because I had to miss my last class at Fuller where I could make fun of Julia’s Pirate Pride, be in class with Tom, Mike, Whit, Bill, Mindy, John, and Brandon and listen to a man I respect deeply, Chap, ramble about his love for kids and Christ.

I hate the ocean today because I was vividly reminded as I said goodbye to my parents at Gatwick airport that my family and I are more than 4000 miles from the people that have meant the most to us in the last 15 years.

We know we have been clearly called to serve the Kingdom of God in England. But today the ocean reminded me that that cost is very high and the distance is very far…and no matter how convenient skype, facebook, and email is…it’s just no substitute. I’m not whining, i’m not complaining, I’m not looking for any sympathy, pats on the back, any ‘You guys are so awesome’ or any of that junk…I’m just saying, sometimes I reminded the cost of serving the Kingdom can feel incredibly hard.

To anyone mentioned in this note and others that aren’t mentioned…thank you for loving and caring for my family in the past and I hope the ocean will not keep us divided for long. In the meantime, maybe i need to go surfing in England to remember why I love the ocean too.

tyne

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/96146/Schools-could-close-for-Islamic-festivals

People's mandala - 12 hands

An interesting news story appeared on BBC news this morning in London. Manchester City council is considering passing a new law where a school could close for a day if more than 40% of the students are absent, presumably because of religious holidays.

The possible decision is arising out of the fact that large numbers of Islamic students are absent from schools on some Islamic holidays. While in and of itself this appears to be nothing abnormal, it has been asserted too many muslim students missing school due to Islamic holidays in a ‘Christian’ country could cause social cohesion in England to deteriorate. The logic supposedly goes that if religions are allowed to take days off from school from their own holidays, this could encourage segregation within communities.

What concerns me about this assertion is that it places the burden of ‘social cohesion’ on schools. While I agree schools are one of the primary focal points of any community, the schools primary purpose is education, not to create social cohesion. But critics argue Christianity remains our state religion and claim communities risk becoming more segregated if different religions dictate school calendars. It is this kind of thought process that seems to dilute a school’s ability to deliver a quality education and give a child the environment they need in which to work on individuating.

Second to this, it is surprising as a Canadian who has lived in the United States and now lives in England, to move from one country where they still think they are a Christian nation (when it certainly appears on every level that it isn’t) to a post-Christian nation and to hear people assert that Britain is still a Christian nation. Third, i’m shocked that someone would assert that in order to be ‘british’ means you have to have one holiday calendar. ‘Either people are British and have a particular holiday system, or we decide to carve the country up into areas that are Muslim and non-Muslim, and I think that’s what this does.’ I’m an evangelical Christian who is still modern enough to believe it is the one true way but post-modern enough to see the danger in statements like this…the right to religious diversity must be preserved…schools must be allowed to deliver quality education, not be charged with the preservation of social cohesion.

The ultimate victims in this kind of thinking are the kids.

Since moving to England almost 7 months ago, I’ve seen some very interesting stuff and some really odd things. And my bike rides have been not been excempt.

Cycling in England in many ways is very different from cycling in Northmybanner47c6339d0aa40ab9 America. Besides riding on the other side of the road, which means crossing roads different, shoulder checking the other side and a bunch of other changes, the roads are never dry, drivers respond to cyclists different, and the roads are much more narrow than anything else I’ve ever ridden on.

As cycling is often a challenge in England and in London, I’ve never experienced what I experienced today. I was riding back into a village, riding on flat ground…doing about 27mph with a couple cars waiting driving behind me as the speed limit was 30. About 250 yards ahead of me was a round-a-bout. I’m slowing down in anticipation of the roun-a-bout, on the other side of the road coming the other direction is a line of about 6 cars also. All of a sudden, a HUGE bull, probably 1500lbs, complete with horns that had to be 24 inches long on either side, comes storming out of the trees on my right….storms out onto the road, the same road I”m riding on, about 15metres in front of me. This bull looks pissed off!!! I swear I can see smoke, fire and steam pouring out of his nostrils and his eyes look huge. Lucky for me he starts running up the road away from me. I look behind me and all the cars behind me and on the other side of the road have stopped and they have their mobile phones out, hopefully calling the cops or animal control. I think about stopping, but if I stop and he turns towards me I’m totally screwed. I slowly keep pedaling trying to stay back from the bull and right behind him so he won’t see me. After about 20 seconds of following him, praying he doesn’t turn around and gore me Pamplona style, he turns off the road and starts troting through the ditch. I stomp the pedals, trying to get past him and to some safety before the bull gets any ideas about the moron on the bike in cycling tights. I get to the round-a-bout and start nervously laughing out loud, thankful to be safety. I look down at and then see my jersey. It suddenly dawns on me that it’s a good think I stayed right behind him where he couldn’t see me because I’m wearing my favorite jersey, a Boure long sleeve jersey, Ned Overend’s cycling clothing company, that I bought at Mountain Bike Specialists in Durango, CO, probably the coolest bike store ever, go there if you get the chance. Anyways, sorry to rabbit trail, but the thing is this jersey is BRIGHT RED. img_34421I realize I was wearing an invitation for the bull to charge me. At this point, I make the mid-ride decision to just head home after my first hour, counting my blessings and being thankful I hadn’t go to that spot in the road 10 seconds earlier.

Needless to say, my eyes, ears, and mind are wide open now. I’m wondering what other bulls might come storming out onto the road in the coming months while we continue to adjust to living in England. I just hope I have the chance to see them coming and respond accordingly.

Let me know what other craziness you’ve encountered while cycling. Would love to hear some crazy stories.

I follow quite a few blogs, just like most people who have now convinced themselves it is a necessary part of their ‘professional development’ and, dare I say it, existence. (What did we do with all that time before? How did we ‘develop professionally’ before the blogosphere?) Anyways, a book popped up on my radar called ‘Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leaders Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors’
insidethemind1

This is one of those books that causes you to wonder and ask, ‘How do they know what’s going on in my mind?’ (I hardly do sometimes) and ‘Is this a book a youth pastor wrote to try and ‘reprogram’ senior pastors to understand youth pastors?’ Either way, it’s not normally a book I’d get that excited about.

But then I was reading an interview about it on Marko’s blog with the author Mark Riddle. Read the interview by clicking here. The author, Mark Riddle, nailed something that I think is really common in youth ministry and is too common of an experience in my own work as a youth minister. He deliniates between two types of churches. Church A which makes the youth ministry/minister the center of all spirital formation of adolescents and Church B who believes the responsibility of the spiritual formation of adolescents belongs to the whole church community: parents, volunteers and youth ministry staff. Well yeah…DUH! is likely your response.

But then he says, “While most youth pastors complain that parents drop kids off and have given up responsibility for the spiritual formation of their kids, youth pastors gladly take that responsibility upon their shoulders and in many ways enable parents.” This is too often me on both counts and as long as I’m enabling the lack of participation (from my viewpoint) I can’t point the finger. And by the way, how arrogant, self-righteous and pompous am I as a youth minister if I actually think too many parents are abandoning their role of discipler of their children and leaving it to me as the youth minister. I don’t get to look in their homes 24-7. I don’t hear every conversation with their kids. I don’t hear every prayer they pray for their children.

As I moved from the US to England and am working in a church as a youth minister in a very post-christian culture, I’ve never been more aware that the youth minister at a church can not be the center (centre, since i’m in the UK) of every student’s discipleship process. In the States, youth ministers can sometimes convince themselves that to be at the center/centre is somehow still manageable and a feasible way of making disciples of Christ. There is an extensive infrastructure in place: churches have established systems, there are big summer camps everywhere, christian music and christian bookstores are major players in the market and always wanting to come to your church for a concert, there are endless conferences, if you need a tool to make the ‘youth minister at the center/centre’ job easier there is a tool to make it happen.

Not so in the UK or in Europe. And if there are fewer tools here to make that job easier, there are even fewer youth ministers working in churches and fewer churches who either have a vision for youth ministry or have the capacity to have a youth worker. In our diocese, there are 44 youth workers in over 370 Anglican churches. Just 11% of churches have a youth worker.

I must be a Church B youth worker. We must involve as many people as possible in the process of discipling adolescents. Doing anything else smacks dangerously of a youth worker finally being the cool kid at the center of everything in a way that seems like some wierd high school social fantasy.

I live in a ‘close’ or ‘cul-de-sac’ to Americans. In it are a number of families with children. A few days ago, as the weather has got better and the sun is up longer (time change), lots of kids have started playing outside after dinner. My two daughters have meet some new kids and made new friends. We found out the other day, some of the kids they are playing with are from a family that moved to London from Iraq.

Yesterday evening, like a good father, I went out with my daughters to play and to get to know some of the kids (as a youth minister its what I love to do). One of the boys I meet is 15 and his name is Hakil. He told me he and his family had moved to London 5 years ago from their village in Iraq. His father had moved here 9 years before that and it had taken him that long to make the money to afford to bring the rest of his family to London.

Hakil told me that there was lots of fighting in his village while he was living there as a young boy. I asked him if he was happy with what has happened in Iraq, in particular the ‘removal’ of Saddam Hussein. Hakil said, ‘He never did anything to me.’ But he added that it was a good thing since Saddam had killed thousands of people. This duality is very perplexing to many in the western world, but seemed perfectly normal for Hakim.

We talked about where he goes to school: Haling Manor (not the best school), about his favorite football team: Manchester United (it’s a big bandwagon), does he like school: No (not surprising). He told me he wants to be an engineer when he grows up. He wants to go to university and become an electrical engineer. I asked Hakil how he planned to use his education and what kind of job he wanted. Hakil said he wanted to move back to Iraq and help his country become a better place to live. He did add, ‘Now that Obama is president, everything will be better.’

Even with the gratuitous Obama drop, which are as common as the lame iphone drop (yes I’m jealous and marginally covetous of anyone with an iphone), what Hakil told me caused me to wonder if in a post-Christian, post-modern culture is the message of Christ that I am bringing and sharing giving more hope to people than the kind of hope that Hakil has? And am I living in a way that shows that I am full of the ‘living hope’ that is made available to me through the resurrection of Christ which graciously gives me an inheritance ‘that can never perish, spoil or fade’ (1 Peter 1:3,4)? Is my hope alive, vibrant, and visible for all to see?

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