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Upside-down?

Part 2 of a series – What are we doing?

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I’ve just re-watched a video posted on You Tube in 2015; I’d like to share it with you. It’s called Upside-Down Leadership and was made by an organisation called House2House. I personally know several of the people speaking in this video, and they are kind, thoughtful, earnest men and women – all of them have walked closely with Jesus for many years. I hope you will recognise Christ in them as you watch and listen to what they have to say.

The video describes leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind of leadership most of us recognise. I can guarantee that in practically any church gathering of any kind, there will be people like these present. They may or may not be recognised by the institutional forms of church we are mostly familiar with; but if you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, these are the people you need to spend time with. They tend to be gentle, wise, kind, thoughtful, humble, loving and often overlooked, sometimes even rejected.

Watch the video and then think about the people in your church, denomination, or small group. Who might benefit from servant leaders like these? Can you identify any upside-down leaders? (They are always there, and just as likely to be found in the congregation as on the platform.) They may be male or female, young or old, uneducated or professorial, wealthy or poor.

How might we find more such upside-down leaders? And how will we thrive without them? Let me know what you think, leave a comment.

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Church as we know it

The whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus

Part 1 of a series – What are we doing?

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The time has come to ask some questions about church as we know it in 2020. What cause lies behind the shrinking attendance at mainstream denominations? Why do we do the things we do? Do our traditions and assumptions match up with church as Jesus wants it to be? If we need to change, how do we go about that? Should we even be asking questions like these?

I believe we should. Not that things are worse than they were ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. But certainly things are not at all as they were at the beginning. Does that matter? If so, why? If not why not? How can we even begin to wrestle with these questions?

I believe we can – and must. But first we need to calibrate our knowledge and understanding and find a measuring system so that we can establish some basic parameters.

The fundamental measure

A steel ruler for measuring length

Let’s take length as an example of a physical quantity. To measure the length of something we need a calibrated tool – a ruler, tape measure, laser rangefinder – whatever form it might take. But the measuring device must be calibrated. A ruler with mm and cm markings on it would be useless if it didn’t agree with other rulers. The basic need here is for a length that never changes that we can use as a standard. Until 1960 the standard was a metal bar in France, and this standard meter was used for calibration; if your ruler didn’t agree with the standard meter in France, it was a bad and misleading ruler. The modern standard is based on the wavelength of a particular kind of light and is far more precise and reliable than the metal bar.

In church life we need a similarly precise and reliable standard concerning our organisation and behaviour. Since the whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus, it should be obvious that he is the standard we must use for calibration. If our organisation and behaviour don’t agree with his, we are out of true and some adjustments will be essential to bring us back into line. The life and words of Jesus are the primary source for us. And all the church leaders who have ever arisen since Jesus’ day should agree with his standard. If they do not, they are bad and misleading leaders.

So how does Jesus measure up as a fundamental standard for his followers? Does he ever change? No, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Can we use him as a standard? Yes, he is knowable in several ways, his words and actions are described in the Bible, he has filled his people with his Spirit as a guide and comforter. Is there anyone else with an equal or better claim to be our fundamental standard? Peter? James? John? Paul? A pope? An archbishop? Your pastor? Arguably, some or all of these might be more or less useful substitutes if the primary standard was unavailable. But Jesus is always available! So no, there is no man or woman who can claim to be a better standard than Jesus himself.

He’s consistent and he’s knowable – and that’s all we need.

Where do we go from here?

In future parts of this series we’ll begin to query what we’ve been doing, individually and corporately. We’ll check the standard of Jesus to see if we need to recalibrate. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but along the way I’ll try to encourage you to look for yourself, to examine Jesus and ask yourself some questions, and to act on what you discover. I’ll revisit this topic from time to time. In the meantime, may your journey be an illuminating one, may you grapple with the challenges, find your own answers, and always keep your eyes on Jesus.

What if you are not following Jesus?

Please note: If your faith is Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or any other religion, or if you have no faith at all, then the paragraphs above are not aimed at you. They are aimed squarely at anyone who claims to follow Jesus.

But I do encourage you to take a look at the claims Jesus makes about himself, and I encourage you to read about him in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. A good place to begin might be one of the gospels. I suggest reading Luke (and then Acts for the early history of the church). And if you find Jesus is calling you to follow him, then the main part of this article does start to apply to you, as it does to all his people.

If you click those links to Luke and Acts you’ll be able to choose from many Bible translations in a number of modern languages.

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A card in wintertime – 2019

When the days are short and the weather is cold (or wet this year), it’s cheering to see Christmas lights in the streets. Here’s a photo of Black Jack Street in Cirencester taken on 12th December. Lovely!

Whoever you are, whatever faith you do or do not have, and whoever inspires you, I have some simple things to say to you:

Life is not always easy or comfortable – may you have strength, wisdom and courage to carry on despite it all. May peace and grace, joy and blessing always follow you and find room in your heart – whatever your circumstances may be.

For myself, I follow Jesus to the best of my limited ability, for more about what I do, think and believe, browse around this website. You are a welcome guest here. And here’s a true word from Jesus himself:

If you’re struggling and heavily weighed down, come to me, I’ll give you rest. Learn from me, the burden I lay on you is very light because I’m gentle and kindheartedly humble.

(Paraphrased from Matthew 11:28-30.)

Climate change, what can I do?

I was prompted to think about some new ideas

I went to a meeting at the Golden Cross in Cirencester a few days ago. We enjoyed a great presentation from Vijay Shah who spoke about his experiences in Arctic regions where climate change has been particularly severe. He also outlined other aspects of climate change including its causes and actions we might take to limit it and the damage it’s doing. Vijay pointed out that there are individual actions we can take in terms of our diet, modes of transport and so forth, and there are industrial and government actions that can be taken too. In the excellent discussion afterwards some of these individual and local matters were raised from the floor.

It was good to talk with others at the meeting, I was surprised by the wide variety of ages, professions, and opinions represented. And I was prompted to think about some new ideas that the talk sparked in my own thinking as I listened, chatted, and again as I walked home afterwards.

Some are original, others are already being widely discussed, some were mentioned at the meeting, but I present them here in the hope they will encourage others to think creatively about what is possible. Here are some of those ideas:

Streetlights – LED streetlights are becoming common in towns and villages, replacing the less efficient high-pressure sodium lamps just as they in turn replaced the older sodium and mercury lamps installed in the 1960s and ’70s.

But why not go further? Instead of drawing power from underground cables, why not fit lithium-ion batteries in the streetlight posts and top the lamp off with a solar panel and a wind generator? The one-off cost savings of not providing a mains power connection, and the lifelong savings of electrical energy would help offset the additional manufacturing cost. Once installed, the street lighting would be entirely green.

Greening the desert – Some deserts have ready supplies of seawater nearby, parts of the Sahara, the Kalahari, the west coast of South America, and regions of Southern Australia spring to mind. Building wind farms and solar farms in these coastal deserts would allow for green desalination, green pumping of the fresh water far inland, and the literal greening of large areas of desert. Not only could the land be used for crops, it might also be possible to establish areas of forest, thus sequestering significant amounts of carbon. And evapotranspiration would reduce the temperature and increase the humidity of the climate downwind of the greened zones. If a sufficient area could be greened in this way, clouds might form and reflect away some of the incoming solar energy

Solar car parks – Many towns and cities have public parking areas, asphalt ‘deserts’ where cars bake in the summer heat while we are shopping or working. Why not cover these areas with solar farms supported on frameworks above the cars and pedestrians? Most towns could generate as much power this way as would a small solar farm in the countryside. As a bonus, radiant heat transfer would be partially blocked from the covered area, so parked cars would stay cooler on hot days, and warmer on cold nights. And pedestrians would get shelter from rain and snow.

Using electric cars to balance demand – Electric cars have considerable amounts of energy storage and this could be used to help smooth power peaks and troughs. Cars plugged in overnight at home or during the day in town and workplace car parks would absorb wind power when excess is available, and return some of it to the grid at times of peak demand. Combined with dedicated battery storage facilities, this would make a change to fully renewable energy supplies possible.

Generating methane – Elon Musk is considering using green electrical energy to extract carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with hydrogen from water to generate methane and oxygen. Using the methane as a fuel would consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and water – a closed system. Originally this idea was intended to allow refuelling of SpaceX’s Starship on the surface of Mars, but he is now looking at the idea of using the same process on Earth to fuel the spacecraft. Extending the idea, methane has potential to be used as a storable fuel for air, sea and land travel. Clearly, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it will be essential to burn it in an oxygen-rich manner to make sure none escapes.

Using ocean trenches – Why not place organic materials (including plastic waste) in the subduction zones in deep ocean trenches where the material would be buried as layers of silt are deposited naturally, and in the very long term would be carried down by plate tectonics and processed by heat and pressure into simpler, harmless molecules.

Solar farms in polar regions – This is, perhaps, the oddest of ideas -but aspects of it may have some merit. Incoming radiation from the sun comes from low in the sky during a polar summer. Solar panels would need to be angled close to vertical and would throw very long shadows; they would need to track the sun across the sky, east to west. The shadows would provide some cooling by absorbing incoming solar energy, reducing the melting of ice and snow in the shadows. But what to do with the electrical power? I suggest radiators at the focus of parabolic reflectors pointing vertically upwards, sending the energy back into space. The atmosphere is transparent at visible, radio, and some infra-red wavelengths. Rather than trying to cover large areas, the idea would be to protect specific areas at risk of losing the white, reflective cover of snow and ice. This scheme might be a bit zany, but perhaps it will spark other minds to come up with more practical alternatives.

Solar rooftops – By no means a new idea, but many industrial and commercial buildings do not currently have solar power generation installed. Reduced taxation could encourage more rooftops to supply energy in this way, and it would be generated in towns and cities, right where it is needed. Lobby governments and local authorities to encourage this.

Burying organic matter – Organic waste and/or purpose grown biomass could be air dried and packed into disused coal mines or other available spaces. Sequestered in this way, the carbon content would be removed from the atmosphere, reducing the levels of carbon dioxide that drive global heating.

Over to you! – Maybe you can come up with some green energy ideas of your own; this planet needs all the good ideas we can provide. Anything that reduces our level of consumption or enables us to live in harmony with the natural world should be publicised and adopted as widely as possible. If you have a good idea, leave a comment and tell us about it. And make sure to share it as widely as you can.

Cirencester Wharf

There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed

Modern residents of Cirencester may not know that the town once had a wharf where canal boats tied up to load and unload goods of all kinds, including coal, manufactured goods, and timber. There were small hand-operated cranes on the quayside to help with handling heavy items.

The canal was a branch from the main Thames & Severn Canal that ran through Siddington and is currently being restored by the Cotswold Canals Trust.

So where was the wharf?

The wharf lay at the bottom of what is now Querns Hill, less than half a mile south of where Cricklade Street meets the Market Place. It was an easy trip by horse and cart for any of the businesses in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and would have been a bustling hub of activity. The area was large enough to turn arriving barges for the trip back to Siddington; imagine the sounds and smells as horses were harnessed and roped for departure or released to rest and graze after arrival. Money would have changed hands as goods were loaded or unloaded from carts and dreys. There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed, jokes and banter and laughter, bread, cheese and meat passed around. People would have greeted one another and said their goodbyes because barges were used to carry passengers as well as goods.

Does anything remain?

Surprisingly, yes! Parts of the towpath remain as footpaths and can still be walked, though the canal has been filled in and there’s no sign of it in the area near the wharf. There are dry stone walls that were once the boundary walls of the canal; you can see these when you know what to look for. And it’s not hard to trace the route of the canal on foot.

Begin near the bottom of Querns Hill, where it meets Querns Lane and Sheep Street, find the view in the location photo below.

Location of the wharf

You are now looking at the site of the old wharf. It stretched from close to the building on the left (beyond the parked cars and the wall) across to the right hand edge of the photo. The canal leading from the wharf headed directly through the building in the centre of the photo and passed to the right of the trees in the centre.

The trees follow the line of the old towpath

The photo above shows the same trees but looks back towards the wharf; the buildings on the left are close to those in the first photo. The canal would have more or less followed the road from the buildings on the left right up to the green bin. Turning 180° from this view there is a house built over the route of the canal, but walking around it, the footpath between the houses is again the old towpath. What’s more, a dry stone wall on the left hand side of this path is almost certainly the old boundary wall that ran along both sides of the canal. The wall is high here, about 2 m, but in farmland the wall was only 1 m or so.

The old towpath and boundary wall, the canal was where the grass is

I was quite surprised to find so much remaining and still identifiable. Local history can be quite fascinating and sometimes the detective work is easier than expected. It would be nice to have some of these remains marked and explained on noticeboards.

If anyone reading this is interested in helping to research the Cirencester Branch of the canal, please leave a comment below and I’ll make contact.

Related material

John Jefferies & Son Ltd – Index

The family business prospered for many years

(See indexes on other topics)

This was the family business, founded in 1795. It prospered for many years, growing and selling nursery stock to other businesses, the government, and to the general public. It ceased trading in 1984 and the garden centre business was sold to Country Gardens PLC, although the company was not officially dissolved until 1994.

  1. The old florist’s shop – the shop had a wonderful cellar

I plan to write a series of articles about John Jefferies & Son and will list them on this index page.

Company details from a 1950 catalogue

Spiritual melody

Everyone present should be free to begin a song

Part 6 of a series – Spiritual melody

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When we think about church music, we usually think in terms of something that’s organised in advance and is played by a band of some kind. Often there’s a worship leader. Over the centuries church music has developed in parallel with the changes in secular music, some examples include Gregorian Plainsong, the chanting of psalms, hymns from hymnbooks accompanied by an organ, informal choruses in house meetings, and more recently bands playing in styles drawn from modern secular music and sometimes of excellent professional standard.

How does that compare with music in the early church? We do have some clues; for example, Paul writes about it briefly in Ephesians 5. In verse 18 he tells us

[Be] filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.

So it seems likely that singing involves inspiration, literally singing as and when and how the Holy Spirit leads. And that would be the very opposite of what we find in many church meetings where the music is led by a person and/or a band at the front and the congregation joins in. It is sometimes the case that people may, in the process, be caught up emotionally and, perhaps, spiritually. But this is never guaranteed and there’s limited freedom to initiate a new song, sing in the Spirit, or be fully free in praise and worship.

Informal and spiritual worship

So what is Victor Choudhrie suggesting? (See the quote below.) Quite simply he is saying that when we meet, at home, in small groups, after sharing a meal, we should forget organised, planned in advance music with a band. Instead, as we pray and worship and teach one another, everyone present should be free to begin a song if they feel led by the Holy Spirit to do so. Not only that, they should feel free to sing in a tongue, or use their voice with no words at all, sing alone or together, pouring out their hearts to the Lord and to one another. As with everything else – complete freedom in music!

Who is it for? Why are we singing? I’m sure you already know the answer! It’s for the Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, Yahweh, the Mighty One, Elohim – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for the Son, Jesus, Yeshua, Yahshua, the Messiah, Christ, our King, our Redeemer and our Rescuer – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Guide, our Cousellor and Advocate, the One who prompts us to sing – sing to him in praise and worship. Sing to the Three in One, the Everlasting Mystery! He is with us, and in us, and amongst us. How could we not sing?

Here’s what Victor Choudhrie has to say about it:

Replace professional music with believers speaking to each other in psalms and spiritual songs, making melody in their hearts to the Lord. OT worship required the sacrifice of four-footed beasts; the NT celebrates by offering two-legged Gentiles as a living sacrifice. The meta-church is a discipling hub and not a singing club. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Rom. 15:16

Questions:

  • How can we best give the Holy Spirit freedom in our singing?
  • Is it helpful or unhelpful to restrict singing to a particular slot in a meeting?
  • If our hearts are full of praise, are we more or less likely to sing?
  • If we sing, are our hearts more or less likely to become full of praise?

See also:

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