Sunday, October 26, 2008

hard talk

I have been increasingly uncomfortable in church over the last years, and particularly in the last few months. My discomfort is generally that church seems to have become an exercise in spiritual-sounding personal development, whereby the primary motivation is to know God because he will make me feel better. Like a drug, we continue to be addicted to what we like about church because it meets our needs for a spiritual rush. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

A couple of bloggers I know are also struggling with this, including John Smulo, who concludes that the problem is that church is all about Sundays and Mark Berry who suggests it is because of an emphasis on Worship over Mission. Both are worth looking at if you want to think about this issue further.

Personally, I think the issue (tangentially linked to both John and Mark's blogs) is that we are all engaged in Me Worship rather than the Worship of Christ as Saviour. Because if we actually loved the Christ in the way we profess in a thousand soppy songs in church, we would follow his commands with at least the passion we belt these things out. Worship of Christ is not primarily about standing in church and saying (and/or doing) the right things. It is in following his commands. Like visiting the prisoner and selling our house and giving the money to the poor. How many people do you know who actually do that?

Yes, we often do need to know that God loves us. Yes, we often do have self-image problems and no these things are not bad in themselves. But we have screw the message big time. Christianity is emphatically not about what we normally talk about in church. Church is not about feeling great and thinking of ever more elaborate ways to get other people to have the same feelings. If you don't believe me, try reading a gospel and noting the words of Christ as if he is actually talking to you.

In our particular church, we have a very old building and a major financial issue. Which is not a great mixture when your focus is almost entirely around services (we have 10 a week with 10 distinct congregations). Without going into great detail, the financial issue is not going to go away and is exacerbated by the fact that most people do not want to throw their own money to the bottomless pit which is the building fund. Perfectly understandably. I don't either.

I am attempting to spread the idea that this is actually an opportunity to be more engaged in our community. If we believed that we had to raise significant sums, we would be forced to consider how we might (ethically and sensibly) attempt to raise money by offering worthwhile services to our community. Or we might just prove to ourselves that we cannot afford to pay for our building and take steps to leave it in trust to the national heritage (or something else which doesn't involve us throwing significant sums of money at it).

The reaction is generally positive, so I am encouraged that things will change.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

without hot air

David MacKay, a Professor in the Cambridge University Physics department has released a new e-book. I would really recommend anyone who is interested in the environment, global warming or energy sustainability to go to, download the full book of 'Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air' and get reading.

Please do not let the author's title put you off, the book is very reasonable and good to read by non-Physicists.

Some highlights for me were:

1. Proof that lots of small actions do not add up to one large action. MacKay measured the energy use of a mobile phone charger plugged in when it was not on. The energy usage was barely measurable and was lower than the amount of energy wasted as heat as the phone is actually charging. If one focussed on this as a 'green action' one would be affecting less than 0.1% of our personal energy use. Even if everyone in the country did this 'small action' the net effect would be negligible.

2. The fact that we are in a total mess over energy policy. Even if we were to pave the nation with solar panels, stick wind turbines in the sea in an area twice the size of Wales and use all our land area to grow energy crops, that is not going to meet the demand. Sadly, renewables are not going to power our country any time soon.

This is an important issue for us greenies. We protest about nuclear power (a campaign which I support) and incineration (which I support), worry about wind turbines (which I don't) and tidal barriers (which I'm not sure about), complain about energy crops (which I can see might be an issue where they to become widespread, but I think that is unlikely) and protest new fossil fuel power stations (another cause I support). But we don't have a good alternative explanation of where we are going to get energy from.

I am currently writing a comment piece about global fashion. In doing research, I found out that some Sub-Saharan African countries are importing vast volumes of Second-hand European clothing. For some, it represents over 80% of all imports. In Ghana, 60% of all clothing sales are in Second-hand clothing.

Now, to me, this is an unethical trade - something our sorry excuse for a society has created by deciding certain people are only fit for our hand-me-downs. On the other hand, we're not going to be able to stop the trade without major changes in the global fashion industry and in the way we think of clothing when we want to stop wearing it. Also, millions of very poor people depend on it. There is no point in complaining about this trade without a) finding a better use for the clothing and b) thinking about the poor people who would be affected if it suddenly stopped. It would be interesting to snap my fingers and stop it. It would be good if we hadn't got to this position. But I cannot will it away.

In the same way, I cannot pretend the energy problem is easily solved by willpower.

Again, I recommend all readers of this blog to download the book and read it for themselves even if it only provokes questions and further thought on the issues.

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