Saturday, 15 February 2014
A while ago I wrote up a bunch of recipes for cooking for your young people, this included a standard recipe for easy bolognese with how to turn it into other things like chilli. I have since learnt a more excellent way. As I pointed out then, "in every youth group there is one young person who states they hate onions. They don't, they hate the big lumps of onions that aren't properly cooked. So just make sure they're diced fairly finely and cooked properly." This is true, but the solution I offered isn't the best one. Sure it works, but it takes a lot of practice to dice onions finely and you'll still inevitable miss a bit that a young person will find and complain about. So, here's a better solution. Buy one of these:
This is a hand blender. You should buy one. Not this one; this one's rubbish. This one constantly smells and sounds like an old Scalextric set that's been raced all day. I'm worried to use the more powerful setting in case I end up cooking bolognese a-la-burnt-and-on-fire-motor. We used to have a much better one; the standard model John Lewis hand blender which proved pretty much indestructible apart from an strange inability to cope with being left lying on top of a still hot hob. Anyway...
The magic of a hand-blender is it can take chopped up onions and garlic and carrots and celery and turn it into a mush like substance that still browns and brings out flavour excellently. And because it turns things into a big mush, after they've been cooked through and the beef and liquid has been added to it, they disappear completely and utterly. The flavour remains and they add bulk and thicken the food, but the young people will never know they're there.
Of course, you could do all this in a food processor, but food processors are big and expensive. Hand blenders are cheap and live in the cupboard under the microwave and can be pulled out, used, washed, put away again, in the time it takes you to work out which way round all the bits are meant to go in the food processor. A hand blender also doesn't just solve the problem of your young person who hates onions, no! It also solves the problem of your young person who hates lumps of tinned tomatoes.
You can use it for other stuff too obviously, whipping cream, blending soups, emulsifying mayonnaise. But as a youth worker I find its primary purpose is hiding vegetables from young people.
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
This year's Youthwork Summit is the 16th and 17th of May and in Manchester. At least some of the line-up is revealed, and in that, the reason you should come. The reason to turn up for the Youthwork Summit this year is Kenda Creasy Dean= taking over the early day, and Andy Hawthorne speaking at the main Saturday event. Frankly, every other speaker could be a terrible waste of space and it would still be worth hearing the insights in contemporary youth work and young people that Kenda Creasy Dean has and the evangelistic fervour that Andy Hawthorne has. You should book.
Tuesday, 4 February 2014
It's the Saturday night of the youth weekend away, after a busy series of talks, small groups, and silly activities, you're sitting the young people down to a late night film and hot chocolate before bed. You have for the young people two options, the first; whatever the latest Pixar film is, the second; Man Of Steel, the latest Superman film. Hey, maybe if they pick that film you could use it tomorrow in your talk, you think maybe you could draw parallels with Jesus overcoming sin and temptation and rescuing us? No, you can't, because I've just come into your residential centre and set fire to your projector and laptop to prevent you from doing such a foul deed.
I mentioned this when it came out, but now it's out on DVD and I've actually sat down and watched it through properly, I'm going to repeat it; if you're thinking of showing your youth group even a clip of Man of Steel as an illustration of who Christ is; don't. It's a terrible idea. Many, wiser, smarter, and more qualified people than I have set out to write down why the film is a bad film, and why it's a worse Superman film. These are good articles worth reading now, but neither explain properly why the idea of someone using a clip from this film to illustrate the earthly ministry of Christ is particularly abhorrent. That's why I'm writing this.
Superman has always been used as a Christ figure. He is after all, a guy with a jewish name (Kal-El), who is sent by his father down to earth, who takes on the identity of a human, and with great power stands up to evil. It's not hard to make the comparison. And judging by past cultural Superman moments, we can assume that the across the country the Superman from Man of Steel will be held up as a Christ figure to congregations and youth groups. But the Superman presented in this film only bears the thin veneer of Christ. Once you look closely, you realise, he's less like Christ and more like the other guy. This is there throughout the film, but hits you right in the face at the end.
Here's a quick recap to get you up to speed if you haven't seen the film (spoilers abound from here on in obviously). Superman / Kal-El has been sent to the earth from a dying Krypton as a baby and grown up there as Clark Kent. He hasn't appeared to the world as Superman. General Zod is an evil bad-guy also from Krypton who also escaped the destruction of Superman's home world (because he was in an alternate dimension prison). General Zod comes to earth with his mates to find Superman just as Superman decides to reveal himself to earth and establish himself as it's protector. Superman teams up with the military to defeat Zod's friends, but Zod escapes. Zod and Superman punch it out and destroy a large part of Metropolis (the New York of Superman's world). In the end Clark uses his strength and skill to best Zod in combat, where he's forced to break Zod's neck to save the lives of a bunch of humans. The crowd go wild; "he saved us" etc... forgetting that if it wasn't for Superman none of this would have happened, and that Superman didn't care that he wiped out half of Metropolis in the battle.
At this point, if you're making the Christ analogy with Superman you point out stuff about his coming to earth and having power and about his fighting for the people and over-throwing the tyrant of the world. You see, you say, he's just like Christ. But that's misunderstanding who Christ is. It's not getting how he ministers on earth and how he rescues his people. It's not getting the cross.
Let me allow Martin Luther to explain how this works. He had this whole thing going on where he pointed out the two ways of looking at the world; either the theology of glory or the theology of the cross. Here's Carl Trueman writing about Luther explaining them both:
At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.
The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God's strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.
The Superman from Man of Steel is a theologian of glory. His triumph over Zod is one of power and might. Superman beats Zod because he is stronger and more skilled. He kills him because that is how the world defeats its enemies. The strongest one wins. And now the people of earth better hope someone stronger than Superman doesn't come along who hates them. Maybe Zod has a son? Worse, what if this Superman decides he's sick of them? Why should he protect them? They'd better hope they don't step out of whatever line he's imposing. What does the all-powerful rescuing messiah in Man of Steel look like? A stronger, slightly nicer, version of the evil one. Sure, he didn't start the war, but he doesn't mind all the collateral damage he causes in finishing it. You don't respond with love to that hero. You cower in fear.
This is not like Jesus. Jesus doesn't overcome Satan by coming down and beating him up. He doesn't rip the head off Satan and place himself on Satan's throne as ruler of the kingdom of this world. He gives up his glory and humbles himself to become a weak human, humbling himself to death on a cross. He allows Satan to kill him, and in this weakness the power of God is displayed and he inverts the whole order of the world. His death brings life to the world, and the first truly meek and humble man is set on a higher throne as Lord and ruler of all. He is not a better version of general Zod, he's the very opposite of him. Zod seeks to conquer, Jesus seeks to serve and save.
You might say at this point, this is all very well and good, but you can't write a film like that. Except of course, thousands of films are written like that. In fact, a superhero film with a son sent down to earth in a red cape came out only a few years ago that got this exactly right and was consequentially a thousand times better. If you want a film to illustrate Christ's life and ministry, show them Thor instead (more spoilers ahead). When Thor is faced with the great destroyer out to ruin the people he has come to live among, he doesn't win by showing he's bigger and stronger and more of a destroyer. He offers up his life to protect the people around him. And in doing so he is raised back to life and given all power and authority and recognised as the true heir of the heavenly city. And then, when he destroys the destroyer, you properly rejoice, because here is a saviour who actually loves his people, who sympathises with them, and who lays his life down for them. You don't cower in fear in case he turns his anger against you. How can you, when he lay down his life for others? If you want to show a superhero film at your residential weekend to make a point, show that one.
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
This research should be a staggering conclusion to a lot of youth programs. These are John Piper's comments on it:
The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the "conversion" of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.
If you set out to change society, you're not going to change it. If you set out to preach the gospel and save the lost, you're going to change society.
Thursday, 2 January 2014
In a lovely Boxing Day article The Telegraph asks if the Church of England is DBS checking too many workers. Actually it doesn't really ask that, it just raises its eyebrows at some quotes and figures from a press-release by the Manifesto Club an organisation devoted to reducing hyper-regulation that I hadn't heard of before either. The argument is; gosh 58,000 people vetted in twelve months is a lot of people right? That's surely ridiculously high; wouldn't it be better (and more Christian) if they vetted less people?
Now, I'm not one to argue in favour of more government legislation, and heaven knows I've complained about people assuming that because they've done a DBS check they've recruited safely, but this article is pure clap-trap.
Is 58,000 people a large figure? Well, it looks big doesn't it. I mean, five numbers in a row is a lot! If I had that much of something I'd consider myself very well off for that thing. Unless it was something like seconds left to live, in which case it's now a very small number (just over two and a half days). The point being, unless we compare that numbers with other numbers, we have no clue whatsoever what to think about it. It strikes me that the actual numbers we want are; how many people are vetted in Church of England, and is that a reasonably low percentage of the population of the church? So let's break down the numbers we have a bit and see if we can answer that.
Of those 58,000 people, only 22,235 were checks done directly by the 25 dioceses who returned information (The rest were done by other agencies linked to the Church of England). To give us a figure we can use to compare, we're going to scale that up as the Telegraph does to 37,000 people (which is bad statistics, but we'll have to embrace it). Now, the Church of England has around 1,206,000 people on all the parochial rolls put together and a usual sunday attendance of 807,500 people. So we could say, very very roughly, that between 3% and 4.5% of people attending church were vetted in the last year. But that's not a helpful figure in finding out how many people have been vetted, because most people are only vetted when they start working or volunteering and maybe again at three years. And some people obviously bring DBS checks with them from other organisations. So the figure of people in a church who have a DBS check could be higher than that. But then, a diocese doesn't only run DBS checks for workers in a church. Some dioceses also do the DBS checks for staff at church schools, for the uniformed organisations churches host, and for homeless charities that operate out of the building. So if they check 37,000 people a year, how many of those are church workers, and how many volunteers at the local primary school?
So what is it actually? How many people are DBS checked in a church? I have no idea, given how ropey some of the statistics are in this article, and how little we know, I can confidently say I wouldn't want to guess. Maybe it's as low as 2%? Maybe it's as high as 20%? We have no clue. I'll ask around and do some digging and come up with a better figure if the data is there and available. So is 58,000 people checked a high figure? As the magic 8-ball says; Reply hazy try again.
Perhaps the most telling thing from the Telegraph article is the only person that they can find for a quote who can at least express some moderate surprise about all this is the Gloucester Cathedral flower arranger who quit over being forced to do a CRB check in 2010. I'm sure there are others who the church has over-zealously, unnecessarily asked for DBS checks in the last three years, but they don't seem to be that common. Maybe what we can take from the article is this; The Church of England does a lot of work with children and vulnerable adults. And it has a lot of volunteers. And, as it's legally required to do, it runs checks on them to make sure they're not barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. That's hardly grounds to complain is it?
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."
-Soren Kierkegaard, "Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard"