February 2007


I was struck by the story of the eleven year old Mexican boy who is going to university. Clearly this lad is a paleontology prodigy but how does this decision honour his childhood? I was relieved to learn that his mother had decided that he continue at school with children of his own age to help with his social development. However, this story does seem to accord with a broader trend you can observe in British culture of children growing up too fast.

On the illicit and clearly shocking side of this trend is the prevalence of guns and knives amongst teenage gangs and the use by schoolkids of mobile phones for amateur teenage porn. On the more subtle side is the way advertising and marketing is increasingly targeting children to groom the next generation of consumers.

At the centre of this is the sexualisation of childhood, particularly girls. A report by Compass entitled The Commercialisation of Childhood outlines this phenomenon with alarming clarity: lacy lingerie, for example, is marketed to under 10 year olds. I can think of an advert promoting a doll for girls which was highly sexualised. This is just one of the impacts of this trend. Others are equally worrying. What’s more, I fear we are yet to reap the full consequences of the commercialisation of kids.

One final thing I’d like to highlight is the huge pressure that is put on parents to spend by their children as a result. Given that so many parents are in debt anyway, encouraged by consumerism themselves, this can only lead to more stress. It’s a vicious and downward spiral.

I haven’t signed the Downing Street petition on congestion charges for a couple of reasons.

  1. Something has got to be done, not just because of traffic congestion, but also because of climate change. It’s just not responsible for car usage to remain at present levels, let alone the projected ones.
  2. The “chicken and egg” nature of public transport and private transport. In other words, do we have a poor record on public transport because people have opted for cars regardless or have people switched to cars out of frustration with public transport.

Finally, why are car manufacturers still making 4X4 vehicles costing £55,000 and doing, at best, 15mpg? Answer, because people are buying them. It has to stop.

It’s always struck me that new church projects involving “seed money” are always sold a bit short by the Church’s overall culture.  Having spent time “in business” before I was ordained, I am struck by two things:
(a) Those who leave the world of business for church leadership are either so glad to be out of it that they ditch their previous expertise.
(b) The Church is at best ambivalent about entrepreneurial leaders and at worst positively hostile to them.

What does all this mean? It means that we have very little evidence that we can translate “seeded” projects into stand-alone funded projects.

All my life I have seen promising projects which began with seed money fold through lack of cash. Let me tell you briefly about one that has prevailed.

I’ve just come back from Spain where the local Anglican church has to fund itself. Some years ago, it purchased a charity shop that brings in £30,000 per annum.

Given most charities do the charity shop thing, why don’t local churches do this? Is it the culture?

Just a quick post to say that Mike and Anthea went on holiday for a week at the weekend. It’s great that Anthea feels in a position to go abroad at this stage in her recovery.

Mike will be back blogging next week.

Thought the stuff that came back on the white van post was excellent.  Obviously, St Paul argued for the principle of paid ministry in general but he also suggested it was not always appropriate in every context. I too was questioning whether the principle be applied in every case, particularly in the pioneering context.

Clearly the point was challenging, even heretical to some, but it was not original in this sense.  We are in touch with pioneers who are asking this question themselves.  The point is simple.  Does payment pull you into a system whose cultural vortex is strong enough to stem creativity?  The white van question is simply a way of asking how much a potential pioneer is prepared to invest (in every way) into the project they are excited by.

But here’s another thought which is a by-product of the same thinking.  In many denominations payment brings you into accountability and accountability is important in all aspects of Christian ministry.  One of the unanswered questions is how do you keep pioneers in the right kind of lines of accountability if you don’t pay them.  I find it challenging to reflect on the kind of accountability which protects people from heresy or abusive behaviour, but at the same time allows creativity and innovation to flourish.  Anyone got any answers?

At a recent meeting, Lee Rayfield, my fellow bishop in this diocese, shared two metaphors of transition from the natural world that had struck him from a book he was reading by Howard Friend. The transitions were from tadpole to frog and from caterpillar to butterfly.

Howard Friend compares the marks of the tadpole’s development - which is visible, organised, orderly and uses the basic structure – with the marks of the caterpillar’s transformation - which is hidden, disorganised, chaotic and abandons the basic structure. Change management gurus call the former incremental change and the latter step change.

(more…)

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