Category: Sufficiency


At the beginning of each new year it has become common place for people, especially the scholarly, to review the books they’ve read. I am not particularly scholarly and don’t read to relax, however I was curious to remind myself what books I’ve tackled this last year and was pleasantly surprised by what I’ve digested. get-attachment.aspx-6

Faitheist is an honest, humble and though-provoking biography of a young man who ‘became a Christian’ but then rejected religion because if it’s ability to painfully exclude and manipulate people, but who has ended up being an advocate of inter-faith dialogue and partnership. Some deep challenges for people of faith and atheists who seek the welfare of society and a great example of someone who refuses to hate.

The Reason I Jump is a delightful biography written by someone with autism. A precious insight into the mind of a remarkably self-aware person living on the autistic spectrum.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Urban Halo and The Sound of Worlds Colliding are each real stories and reflections from people living in or alongside slum communities around the world. The latter two are written or edited by people who have been part of Servants teams, the charity which I have recently become an elder of (see former post). One of them, Craig Greenfield has since developed the inspiring Alongsiders initiative, equipping those who have grown up in slum communities to mentor children growing up alongside them in those neighbourhoods. It was a delight to meet him and hear more whilst in Phnom Penh. The love of these authors for these neighbourhoods-become-home is tangible, but so is their cry for the rest of the world to engage with these marginalised communities that are rapidly housing the majority of the world’s population.

Whilst staying in the slum community in Phnom Penh I chose to re-read the Gospel of Mark from my host’s doorstep. It was healthy to read it from a different perspective, one which looks far more like the original context than my developed world, privileged, powerful perspective. It made me interpret some bits quite differently and I scribbled lots of questions around the text which I will come back to one day. I interspersed this with reading Scarcity, an intellectual investigation into how lack of time, food, security, or anything else, makes us react. A little light on the practical solutions for this activist, but it did suggest there are some similar responses to be aware of in our efforts to counteract poverty.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum whilst in Phnom Penh. It is an essential but awful visit to make. Whilst there I heard the story of Chum Mey, a prisoner at the school, turned prison, turned museum. Although tortured, he avoided death because he was an artist and was regularly called upon to paint members of the Khmer Rouge. At the end of the tour I met him at a stall where he sells his book Survivor, the triumph of an ordinary man in the khmer rouge genocide. He has committed himself to tell the story in order to prevent such genocide happening again. In the intro he says remarkably:

“…I do not condemn the people who tortured me. If they were still alive today and if they came to me, would I still be angry with them? No. Because they were not senior leaders and they were doing what they had to do at the time. I consider them victims like me, because they had to follow other people’s orders. How can I say I would have behaved differently? Would I have had the strength to refuse to kill if the penalty was my own death?…Even the ones who tortured me, they also lost parents and family members,”

In a similar vein, using real life global scenarios Andrea Riccardi in Living Together investigates our yearning to live in a peaceful society whilst surrounded by conflict and violence. Exploring issues of globalisation, identity and cohabitation from various standpoints, it charts changes throughout history, attitudes to religious groups and even raises the awkward topic of jihad.

Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement is a story- and theologically-rich investigation into contemporary issues which might tempt people to excarnate, or disengage, themselves from the world and communities they find themselves in – to be present but not available. This, Frost argues, is counter to what the incarnate, enfleshed, embodied Jesus models and so he includes examples of how to take root, embrace place, and appreciate who we have been made to be as humans. Rarely have references to films, zombies, porn, cities, clicktivism and menstruation all appeared in the same theological book!  It was contemporary, thoughtful, grounded and affirming.

To be honest, I am only half-way through Half The Sky: How To Change The World. It is a thoroughly disturbing examination of how women and girls are treated around the world, yet inspires the reader with incredible stories of how many have overcome. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict”, says a former UN force commander of the extortionate number of women raped in war. And the authors suggest “it appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century”. Reading this is like having a bucket of cold water thrown over your head to awaken you to such routinised genocide, and provokes the religious to deep soul-searching as we share more than a hint of culpability in shaping attitudes which promote inequality.

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ImageA team of creative thinkers has put together a useful resource called Faith in Food banks which helps groups reflect on this rising phenomenon.  This piece of work, the first of a series of three being pulled together by the Joint Public Issues Team, is geared towards helping Jesus followers (in the main) think about why they might be running (or thinking about running) a food bank.  I think this kind of stuff is vital because whilst it is imperative that we look after the vulnerable, it is also crucial that we look at the bigger picture and ask deeper questions about what food banks say about people, communities and God.

The Mission Theology Advisory Group that I am part of, has also done some work on the theology of food banks. This somewhat more lengthy piece of work offers quite a thorough investigation and is a complementary addition to JPITs resource and is available to download via a link on the right of their page..

I was invited to write something for political thinktank ekklesia with my reflections from the launch of Christians On The Left last month. I ended up pondering food banks, Shoreditchification, bookies and thunderclaps, and ended up asking if the church is angry enough about injustice to be bothered to do anything about it.

The full article is available here.

20131130-001828Last week we experimented with hosting a charity curry night in our home. It was as idea hatched with our friend Jack Monroe on a road trip to Birmingham one week-end in October.  With a cookery book packed with budget-busting, austerity-appropriate recipes due out imminently, she was in an ideal position to cook a nice load of food cheaply.  And with a new home with some large flexible space, we were in a perfect position to host.

Jack has documented the evening and the recipes on her blog here.  We had a really fun evening, made new friends and raised £200 for one of our local food banks and homeless charities.  It is already looking likely to become a regular event, with the next one planned in January.  Just think, if we manage one a month we will be on route to raising £2000 in 2014.  That’s got to be good news!

And with the embarrassingly fast speed with which new food banks are opening it is imperative that we raise the profile of food poverty in the UK and ask why they are increasing so rapidly in the seventh richest country in the world.  If you haven’t added your name already, please sign #Jackspetition and show your desire for UK hunger and the rise in foodbanks to be debated in parliament later this month.

KilpinCover_SmallI was delighted today when I read my copy of The Urban Bulletin that Terry Drummond, the Bishop of Southwark’s adviser on Urban and Public Policy, had kindly written a review of the book I recently wrote about the work of Urban Expression.  I was also happy to hear from the publishers that the ebook version is now available.  You can find it on Amazon and other main outlets or at Troubador.

Terry Drummond writes:

The importance of the Church in urban communities can never been under-estimated and is even more important when half of the world’s population live in cities.  The presence of Christian disciples offering worship, service and outreach can frequently offer the saving grace that ensures that individuals and families are given a space for personal development.

In reading this book I was introduced to a group that I had heard spoken of for many years, but without ever having any contact. Urban Expression, which one of the founders Juliet Kilpin describes in this book, is an example of the Church at work through the ministry of believers who have made a commitment to living out the incarnation in urban communities.

The chapters are a combination of the descriptions of the history of the development of Urban Expression, followed by the testimony of different members who have been a part of the various outworking over 15 years. The chapters all end with a prayer and in every case these are reflections that can be used by the reader to open themselves to a deeper relationship with God.

The importance of Urban Expression is, in part, found in its ability to work outside the structures of the institutional Church. The members commit themselves to living out the Christian message by sharing a life in community that is rooted in worship, that leads to outreach in the local community.  The message of St. Francis ‘preach the Gospel, use words only if you must’ are reflected in these pages. The sharing of meals and parties that bring people of different cultures together is an example of how, through knowing their neighbours, the members of Urban Expression build a sense of community.

The Christian underpinning and commitment may not always be known or recognised by the community who come to take part in meals and parties; it is more important that fellowship is shared and life together is celebrated. The importance of the celebration is that in most cases the ministry is with people for whom poverty and exclusion are a part of their daily existence.

In the Gospels, Jesus eats and parties with tax collectors and sinners, much to the annoyance of the religious leaders. In this way he ensured that His message was shared with those who were excluded and criticised by those with power. In the same way Urban Expression brings the message of salvation and grace in to communities where the institutional Church is not always strong.

It is important that the message of Urban Expression, with its commitment to living out the incarnation, is celebrated and shared with the wider Church. It is of equal importance that we recognise that it is in a wide mix of expressions of faith, both formal and informal, that Christians continue to serve in urban communities. There is no one right way of ministering, just a glorious mix of people working together in seeking to bring the message of the kingdom to urban communities.

In Urban To The Core Juliet Kilpin, with others, tells a story of how the Christian message can be lived out by those who are called to a life of community that serve in a neighbourhood and brings the message of hope to many who are all too often caught up in hopelessness. The reader is invited on a journey of exploration and at every stage they will be challenged to a deeper understanding of what living out the incarnation can mean for those who are called to live in urban communities.