Category Archives: alt worship

Why Christians should celebrate the summer solstice

stones07-solsticeThis week the summer solstice rolls around – on June 21st we will have the longest day and shortest night of the year. On June 22nd we begin the countdown to winter once again.

As part of Oasis Church Grimsby we’ll be celebrating the summer solstice with a forest church gathering. Very informal, as all of our gatherings are, and marked no doubt by the familiar sound of children tearing around and having fun, we’ll get together in a small piece of woodland and share some life and friendship together. If the weather is kind to us, we will bake some bread on a barbeque or open fire.

Fire has been part of solstice celebrations for many many years, since before the development of Christianity in fact, the primal force of the flame reflecting something of the power of the sun – offerings made into the fire whisked upwards towards the heavens on a thermal draft. Back in those times, clever people built stone structures which were perfectly aligned to the light of the sun on these special occasions, and the day itself was believed to have a propitious magic.

The solstice was also seen as a new year, and celebrated as such. As a time of transition, offerings were made to thank or appease relevant spirits who might be able to affect harvests, water supplies and the welfare of animals. In our more ‘rational’ age such spirits have largely been forgotten, with solstice celebrations being left to those perceived as oddballs and refuseniks.

But I think that more of us should celebrate the solstice. In particular I think that Christians should celebrate the summer, and winter solstices.

One reason for that is that I think its a very good thing to reconnect ourselves with the ancient patterns of the world, it’s healthy for us to find ways of making a connection with the earth.

Everything we do and interact with these days is alienated from the earth, we buy bread that comes neatly wrapped in a plastic bag, we buy clean vegetables and packaged meat from supermarkets. We clean our teeth with a mysterious paste that comes out of a tube, our clothes although often made from plant fibres, bear no resemblance to the raw materials they contain.

Our alienation is almost complete, were it not for walks in the country, gardening, and so on, the only way we would experience the natural world would be through our televisions. I generalise of course, lots of us are much more connected to nature than this, but you get my drift.

The word ‘solstice’ is a compound of two Latin words, ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘sistere’ meaning to ‘stand’ or ‘halt’. It’s a time when the sun seems to stand still, to hang in the heavens for an unusual amount of time. And its a time when we humans can be still too – when we take time out of our alienated lives to be thankful for the  world we live in. To be thankful for the fruitfulness of the earth, and the life that comes from the sun. Some say all life comes from the sun, and that’s more or less true – plants have life because of photosynthesis, creatures have life because they consume plants, or consume creatures that consume plants. More or less all life is viable only because of the sun.

So yes, I believe it’s a good thing to celebrate the solstice. Christians in particular should celebrate the summer solstice and give thanks to the great spirit who they understand as the maker of all things, including the massive ball of incandescent gas which we know as ‘the sun’.

But lets not make it exclusive, non Christians should celebrate the summer solstice too, indeed we should all do it. The mid point of summer has arrived, it’s a special time. Give thanks to God, the universe or whatever you believe in, or if you prefer, just think happy thoughts. The sun gives us life, and this is it’s high point, we should celebrate it.

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Did you believe in Jebus?

It was great to meet some wonderful people over the weekend, many of whome came along to my seminar about Jebus. Because of the interesting way the conference is structured I repeated the seminar three times, and each time we had a great crowd and a whole different set of discussions. Topics covered included: the rights and wrongs of voluntary poverty, why it should be harder to become a Christian, why we should or shouldnt give up on the established church, and a whole lot more. Very good stuff indeed.

I even managed to sell all the books I took with me, which just about covered my own conference fee! Marvellous.I also sold some CD’s of recorded scripture readings which are to be used in meditation. These are part of a new venture I am working on called Emmaus Encounters, I’ve started building a website here. It will be finished sometime before too long.

I had to laugh when someone asked if ‘as a speaker’ I was in a nice, ensuite room – just goes to show how little they understood about our movement. We dont really distinguish between speakers and cleaners (not that I was a speaker in any case) we all pay the same, we all get the same, whether we’re going to speak, to make the coffee, or to listen. There’s a rightness in that.

That said, I was fortunate enough to get a room to myself, not because of my exalted (ha ha) status, but because the person I was to have shared with decided to bring his wife at the last minute. Just as well for him really as I was in bed late and up early every day. A good time was had by all I hope.

If I met you at the conference, then welcome to the blog – this is home to my ramblings, and perhaps some statements which are about as provocative as those I made in the seminars. I do like to get a bit of discussion going.

Some people asked me if the seminar material may form the basis of my next book, well that’s something I’m wondering about too. I’ll let you know.

If you’re here looking for ideas concerning exploring spirituality with young and/or unchurched people – then do have a nose around on the site, you may find some stuff, and also look out, I’ll be back soon with some links for you.

If you’re here because you’re considering inviting us to come and facilitate some kind of training, seminar or other such event – then please be advised I expect ensuite rooms and breakfast served by a butler! LOL.

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Intro to Christian Meditation

This saturday we are holding the rescheduled Introduction to Christian Meditation workshop, which was cancelled due to snow last year.

The workshop runs between 9.30 and approx 12.30, it will be at the City Church centre on Freeman Street, Grimsby, and entry is free. Donations towards room hire are welcomed.

We’ll be covering three basic kinds of meditation practise: Visualisation; Lectio Divina; and Centring prayer, taking time to practise each one. There will also be space for more general questions and discussion about meditation, techniques and philosophies.

If you are interested in meditation, how different traditions teach it, or perhaps you have a particular interest in Christian forms of meditation, and how you can implement them in your life, then come along. All welcome.

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Common Prayer parties for Ordinary Radicals

This blog has taken a very religious tone of late, high time for more nonsense to appear, but until it does, I thought I’d make you aware of something good that’s happening.

A while ago a number of us were asked if we’d like to host parties to celebrate the launch of a new ‘book of common prayer’ which is described as a new monastic resource, full of songs, liturgies, prayers etc. I didnt volunteer, what with living in a very small place and all, but I’m glad to see a number of others in the Uk have signed up.

So, if you’re in or near Birmingham, Coleraine, Glasgow, Saint Andrews or Sheffield, then I reccomend you get along. If you live outside of the UK, look for your nearest party here. They are happening all over the world.

If you’re interested at looking at what the book has to offer, you can see more here. It is effectively a ‘greatest hits’ of the church traditions, something of a post modern melting pot of stuff, from the very old, to the very new. One thing you can be sure of too, is that it will be beautifully and creatively presented. You can pre-order it here, or from your internet retailer of choice.

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Pyro Theology

One of the definite highlights of Greenbelt, for me, was the Ikon event – ‘Pyro Theology’. It was a great piece of theatre/performance/worship, and if you want to have a look at it, take a look at this video, which doesnt exactly do it justice, but gives just a taste.

HT: Pete Rollins (of course).

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Greenbelt 2009

We were at Greenbelt for the weekend, it was a fascinating experience, especially when comparing it with my memories from about 16 years ago. It is now much bigger than it was then, and a lot slicker, not that these are necessarily bad things.

The good points:

Fantastic music and just vast amounts of talks and seminars to choose from, my favourites were:

Alastair McIntosh… such a good speaker, love hearing what he has to say.

His talk on ‘The violence of our times’ was a good one, and it reminded me of the real need for us to address our theology of attonement, the redemptive violence thing is very problematic.

The Apples… better live than on record which are already a very high standard, they really are a great band.

Ikon… I went to see their ‘pyro theology’ which was great, I really liked it.

Pete Rollins… I also went to hear Pete speak, he was very good indeed.

Meeting up with friends was just a huge part of the weekend for me, and meeting people who I dont know so well too, including the good mr Mark Berry, who was camped a mere few meters from us. Should have made more of an effort to have a good chat really, my bad. Andrew Jones was good to meet, again not much of a chance for a chat, but good to say hi. Bex Tomlinson is a top person, brilliant to see her again, the friends we went with were of course on brilliant form – you know who you are.

Lots of missed opportunities mainly due to family commitments, many things I would have liked to have seen or done which werent possible.

That brings me on to the downsides of the festival:

Childrens work: I perhaps have rather high expectations of kids work at events of this kind, but I thought the kids work was a bit too ad hoc, not as well organised as I would have liked, and lacked some substance. More annoyingly, my children didnt really like it. I’m sure this is institutional rather than down to the kids workers themselves, all the guys I met were great.

But the problems do go hand in hand with my other main greenbelt gripe:

Queues. Flippin everywhere, for everything, all the time, miles long. Ahhhhh! Did my head in in a serious way, the only thing for which there was no queue was the mainstage which is open on two sides, thank heavens for that.

I personally think the festival is a bit on the large side, I prefer the smaller and more intimate feeling of a less enormous event. I estimate about 20,000 people were there over the weekend, which is quite a lot whichever way you look at it.

The overall feeling of the event is an interesting one, it certainly has a very liberal feel, and there is no overt God bothering kind of point to it, which is both good and bad. I like the fact that people from all kinds of backgrounds can contribute on an equal platform, from the Gay Bishop Gene Robinson, to the Quaker Universalist Alastair McIntosh, there wasnt much by way of conservative representation there I thought, not that I’m bothered by that as such, but I think all groups have their strengths, and one thing the conservatives bring is a focus on the God of the Bible without the existentialist lens of some more ‘out there’ theologians. Possibly the class politics of the festival have something to do with all this, there was a definite upper middle class vibe in my opinion.

However, this is not a complaint, more of an observation. I have rarely been somewhere where there were talks I actually wanted to hear, that is a real novelty. I enjoyed it immensely, despite the wretched queueing.

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Greenbelt

This weekend I wont be doing any gardening, I’ll be at Cheltenham racecourse with Kel and the kids, savouring the sights and sounds of the Greenbelt festival.

I went to Greenbelt once before, many many moons ago, when I were ‘but a lad’. I enjoyed it, I saw Jah Wobble and most exciting to me at the time, Midnight Oil! Although I was always a bit sad they never played Beds are Burning or Bullroarer, still love those tracks.

Anyway, its been many a year since I went to the festival, and I’m looking forward to it this year, hope to catch a few good acts, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are playing, they’re mint. Also The Apples who I have loved since hearing them on Craig Charles’ funk and soul show, as well as a billion of other groups, including better known types like Royksopp, Athlete and Cornershop, who will all put on a good show I’m sure.

There are speakers galore, including the hilarious and insightful Rob Bell, and the brilliant Alastair McIntosh, as well as my one time comic co-conspirator Jeff Anderson who’s doing a panel on the future of comics with some other creators.

It’s also a gpood chance for me to get a look at what’s new and happening in the world of alternative worship, which will be handy as I’ve a number of sessions lined up to do in the Autumn.

I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends, making some new ones, and getting to meet a few people who I’ve only spoken to via cyberspace, if you’re going to be there, please say hello, I’m the one who looks a bit confused.

We’re travelling friday morning, back monday night or tuesday morning, might just manage to get a blog post in before then, if I dont, see y’all soon.

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Guerrilla worship from Liverpool

This is great, and apparently organised via facebook, which normally I would loathe, but this time I’ll give it due props.

Well done scousers, ht dream blog, which is well worth keeping an eye on.

Praying together as a family

prayer-stones

We’ve been looking for interesting and natural feeling ways of praying together as a family for some time.  Some of the more ‘staged’ ways of praying in creative manners that I’ve used in small groups – from the high tech video meditations to the low tech throw a dice type prayers just dont seem right for a family situation.

So a while ago we settled on an idea which we thought would work.  We gathered a load of small smooth stones – the little grey ones you find on beaches are ideal.  I think we’ve got about twenty altogether.

On the stones, in black marker pen, we’ve written names, places, and issues which were volunteered as important by different members of the family.  Involving the children at the first stage – collecting the pebbles was important in terms of giving them a feeling of ownership of this.  In the same way they had an equal say in what should be written on the stones, and of course their names were put on stones too.

The idea is that at a convenient time we each take a stone, and one after the other, pray for the person/place/theme on the stone.  We struggled to find the ideal time for a while, and the stones sat to one side for quite some time.  But now we’re in a rhythm which seems to work, using the prayer stones after each evening meal, before ‘bath time’.

I share this here because I know how hard it can be to find good ways to pray together without it becoming stale for all concerned.  I hate the idea of forcing an external religion on my kids too, so this way is a good opportunity to open it up to them too.

My children are five and seven, I know this wont work with them forever, but right now its seems ideal, and it certainly ellicits some very beautiful prayers.

A nice bowl is an important touch by the way!

movements – of all sorts

It was the end of december when we first moved into the flat – we managed to get in before Christmas, and despite 50% of the family managing to have flu – we had a lovely Christmas time as a family.

Initially it felt a bit like we’d never manage to get everything in, having last lived in a reasonably decent sized three bed terraced house, with three reception rooms and plenty of storage, we’ve gone to a  three bed flat, with one reception room and no storage… shouldnt work really, but it does!  In fact it often seems quite airy here, and I much prefer the way we dont have wasted space in a home like this.  Its weird how you get used to ways of living.

It took an absolute age to get connected to the internet, we had to have a new phone line installed in the first place, and for that to happen a new line had to be put in at the pole, but eventually we go there, and a week or two later Orange deigned to turn on our broad band… yeehah!

It was quite helpful really not being connected for a while, it forced me to take a break from my usual massive digital media consumption habit, no feeds got read on a daily basis, I forgot what the newspaper websites looked at, I’d already given up twittering (thank goodness) and as you may have noted the blog lay dormant for nearly a month.

But now we’re back, and cracking on with things.  We are in Conference mode for the weekend, before hosting a team here in Grimsby to spend some time praying about aspects of our work here, the wider stuff we’re involved in, and for the town itself.

As part of that I’ve spent a little while looking at the monastic heritage of the town, which includes two friaries, an abbey and a nunnery or two.  Where we live, on the Nunsthorpe Estate, was once part of the grounds for a large Augustinian Nunnery, which was closed in the 16th century by Henry VII.

We are working towards the fulfilment somehow of a new monastic vision here in Grimsby, and its interesting to know what has gone before here.

I suddenly seem to have dived back into the world of alternative worship and prayer gatherings, from having done none for a couple of months at least, I suddenly find myself preparing four separate gatherings, which is a wonderful privelige, although I am a bit rusty…

And there is even movement on the Cambodian cotton front – I dont want to say too much right now, but I feel a bit like this year will be one of real forward progress in many areas, and I am looking forward to it.

Well anyway, I’ve lots of work to do, so I better get back to it, but please consider yourself invited to come and visit, eat, and stay with us – believe it or not – we’ve got room!

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