Leather chairs arranged around a board room meeting table

Jane and I got back from London last night, to discover amongst the mail on the doormat a letter from the University of St Andrews inviting me to an interview. On Wednesday. That’s right: this Wednesday; the day after tomorrow!

The interview is for the post of Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager, which would be such an ideal job for me, combining my love of Web design, usability, accessibility, content management and organisation.

Information Architecture (IA) is the discipline of combining the aesthetics and mechanics of Web technologies to create usable, accessible and attractive websites. IA is about helping create websites that can easily be used — how frustrated do you get when you can’t find something that you know is on that site? — updated and expanded.

The interview on Wednesday will begin with “a task”, probably something like bringing the three-headed watchdog of the underworld, Cerberus, to the surface without the use of any weapons, followed by an interview that includes a 10 minutes presentation about a website that I’ve developed.

If it is your discipline, please pray for me as I prepare for the interview, travel to St Andrews on Wednesday morning and for the interview itself. I’m really excited about what the post could offer me, and what I could offer it. Please pray that between the interviewers and I we discern whether this is what God wants for me next.

The Shaping of Things to Come

Scotland scoring a try against Wales
Scotland scoring the first of their second last-minute tries against Wales , to lose 28 – 18. (Photo: BBC Sport)

This weekend we had our good (Welsh) friend Rich Olyott staying with us in sunny Edinburgh. I enjoy weekends with Rich, because they are relaxed and fun events … except maybe while there’s a Six Nations match between Scotland and Wales!

So, first of all, the sending off of Scott Murray (Scotland No. 5) for his quite instinctive kick-back after being caught in a very late tackle. I walked out of the living room I was so cross with the referree. (I also needed a pee!)

Book cover for The Shaping of Things to ComeDuring my mid-match hiatus another friend, Iain, telephoned from Inverness to find out how things were going generally and to recommend a book that appears to be doing the rounds just now: The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2003).

In The Shaping of Things to Come the Australians Frost and Hirsch present an innovative vision of how the church can be more relevant and responsive to the spiritual hunger seen in the Western world.
(From Hendrickson’s website.)

In searching the Web for more information about the book I came across an interesting review by Eddie Arthur. Here’s something that he writes that got me quite excited:

Attractional versus Missional

Frost and Hirsch say that traditional churches create sacred spaces that are fundamentally uncomfortable for not-yet-christians. Then they set about drawing the not-yet-Christians into those spaces. They say that in the attractional church “evangelism becomes about inviting people to meetings” — and this limits our vision for what God can do both in time and in space. But “Jesus didn’t say, sit in your church and wait for people to come to you.”

Even when traditional churches set out to be evangelistic, Frost and Hirsch suggest that church planting generally involves planting Sunday services rather than real Christian communities.

The Missional church, on the other hand “does not seek to attract people to it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t know him yet.” It does this through proximity spaces, shared projects, and commercial enterprises. Proximity spaces are “places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other.”

They are definitely not churches. Examples of proximity spaces include art workshops, pubs and cafes where Christians form part of the regular clientele. Shared projects are activities of genuine interest to the wider community, which meet a need and provide an opportunity for Christians and not-yet-Christians to meet in a natural situation. Commercial enterprises are real businesses, run by Christians for the wider community, but which are not overtly evangelistic. Examples included a shoe shop in San Francisco and a pub in Barnsley. The point of all of these activities is to find neutral ground where the Church can intentionally meet with the wider world.

This does not mean that the Church merely becomes a social club. Bible teaching and worship are still very much part of the life of the church (though perhaps not done in traditional ways), as is mutual commitment and accountability.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! The more I think and read and pray about it, I firmly believe that we need to get ‘out there’ again and live and worship amongst the general population.

From another review of the book:

This book is a “must-read” for anyone that is serious about advancing the Gospel in the 21st century. The basic thesis of the authors, an Australian and a South African who are planting churches in Australia, is that Christendom is rapidly dying in the Western world. By “Christendom”, they mean the dominance of the church in Western culture from the fourth century, when Constantine proclaimed Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, until recently. The characteristics of Christendom include:

  • The centrality of religious buildings, epitomized by the great cathedrals constructed in the Middle Ages in Europe.
  • Leadership by an institutionally ordained clergy operating primarily in a pastor-teacher mode.
  • Institutional-hierarchical notion of leadership and structure.
  • Institutionalization of grace through the sacraments.
  • The church perceived as central to society and surrounding culture.
  • The church operates primarily in an “attractional” and “extractional” mode.

That is, the church expects not-yet-Christians to come to us, and when they do, we extract them from their social networks…

The authors argue, therefore, that what is needed is a missional church, as opposed to a “parish” church which assumes that “If you build it, they will come.” By “missional”, they mean a church that is incarnational, messianic, and apostolic. These are three terms that are open to misinterpretation, and the bulk of the book is devoted to expounding on these three themes.
(From review by “John Ed Robertson, Lausanne Conference, 2004” at Hendrickson website.)

Needless to say, I’ve already ordered the book at Amazon UK. It sounds incredibly exciting.

I returned to the match after Iain had called in time to see Scotland scoring a couple of wonderful tries. “Come on Scotland,” Jane and I were yelling at the TV. “We don’t mind if you lose, but if you could just score a try that would make us happy.”

And they did. Twice, the second coming from a tremendous interception by Chris Paterson.

From what I saw of the match overall I was encouraged by Scotland’s performance. The shape of things to come, perhaps?

When Rich left, to drive back to Glasgow, I returned to my desk to discover that he’d added to my jotter. On it I had scribbled down the name of the book when Iain had given it to me over the telephone. It now reads, thanks to Rich:

  1. The Shaping Of Things To Come
  2. Dominate the World
  3. Make tea

I’m not sure world domination, in the traditional, military sense, comes under the remit of Christian mission, but tea certainly sounds good.

A man in a sack troubles no owl

Benjamin pointing to a sign that reads: Baby Special Care Unit
Benjamin standing outside the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at St John’s hospital, Livingston. Sadly, because of regulations Benjamin wasn’t allowed in to meet his only cousin.

We’re just back home after having driven a little over 200 miles today: Edinburgh to Selkirk to Edinburgh to Livingston to Edinburgh to Selkirk to Edinburgh. I’ve had déjà vu on more than one occasion today — I’m sure I’ve said that before.

Driving back along the M8 towards Edinburgh, Jane was talking about how she has to be in Wick, Caithness, in the far north of Scotland on Tuesday morning to be involved in a number of interviews for a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award-related post.

“Did you know,” said I, “that Wick is that place that all the male owls in Scotland fly-to to chat-up the female owls?”
“Really?!” exclaimed my sister Jenni, sounding quite excited by that idea.
“Yeah,” I replied, “all the owls go to Wick to woo.”

It took me about 10 miles to stop laughing at my own joke. And that was only because we’d stopped at a chip shop in Edinburgh and I was too busy stuffing my face with chips to laugh!

Just as we were arriving in Selkirk Jane got this SMS text message from my brother Eddie:

Owen is still in special care unit, but is feeding for ages and seems fine. He is out of incubator and hopefully will be back on ward pretty soon. E x

which is great news. So thanks for all the prayers so far, saints. Time for bed now. But before I go, just to explain: this post’s title comes from a competition that one of the London broadsheets ran in 1996 to come up with pithy sayings. Others included “You can take a horse to Wembley but you’d be in the wrong place” and “Fingers for hands, toes for feet!” I feel that the world is a more beautiful place now because of these. Bed, I think…

Please pray

Owen with Gareth and Edmund
Photograph taken yesterday in hospital, Uncle Gareth holding Owen, with Owen’s father (Gareth’s brother) Edmund.

This is a call for all the saints (that’s you, by the way) to please pray for our new nephew Owen. We’ve heard that baby Owen had to be taken to the baby special unit within the last 24 hours, having had a little shaking episode and losing colour. We’re not entirely sure what’s going on, but our trust is in God to bring Owen, and Bec and Eddie through this.

Jane and I are off to Selkirk soon to pick up Grannie (my Mum, the ex-Midwife) and take her to Livingston to see baby and new parents for the first time. I mean, Mum’s seen Eddie and Rebecca before — obviously! — but not as parents. You know what I mean!

I’ll give an update when we get back later this evening.

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy taking off or putting on a jacket
“I’ll get my coat!” (Photograph from Dale Rhodes Tailoring.)

Since beginning writing this post the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Anyway, this is what I wrote:

I’m really feeling for the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP just now, after he admitted to be battling with alcohol addiction:

Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy has called a leadership contest after admitting he has been battling with a drink problem.

He said he was determined to carry on as leader but wanted to give party members the “final say”.

Mr Kennedy – who has previously denied a drink problem – admitted seeking “professional help” to beat the bottle.

(Source: BBC News, Thursday 5 January 2006)

“Giving party members the final say”, of course, means a leadership election. And how are his fellow LibDem MPs supporting him? Well, they’re clearly not. This is from today’s BBC News website:

More than half of his 62 MPs told a BBC Newsnight survey that Mr Kennedy should go or said his position was untenable.

This was from an article that opened with:

Charles Kennedy has rejected claims he is in denial over his political career, after senior MPs urged him to quit.

Interesting use of the word ‘denial’ there. There was such a fuss made about his lying to people about his drink problem. Well, of course he was! Don’t they realise that he was lying to himself in the first place? That’s a key part of the whole denial aspect of substance addiction. Jane, who is a trained alcohol counsellor, pointed that out as soon as it was mentioned on the news. It wasn’t that he was deliberately misleading people, it was that he genuinely didn’t believe that had one. That’s the nature of the condition.

That he was finally open about it and admitted it publically is to be applauded. It should be seen as an incredibly brave move on his part, at a deeply personal level, that he recognised it and admitted it to himself and that he sought help. If he really hasn’t drunk any alcohol for two months that is surely to be praised.

And what an incredible example it could have been to the thousands of people here in the UK who are also struggling with alcohol problems. And the UK, I think I’m right in saying, has one of the highest rates of alcohol problems in Europe. And not just among adults either, but among children, and teenagers, and young adults too. And at every social strata too. I can’t help but think that how this has been handled isn’t healthy. I wonder how vulnerable other members of parliament now feel who also have a hidden drink problem.

That Charles Kennedy has been publically clawed apart in both the political and media spheres because of it — and now forced to resign — is, in my opinion, utterly disgusting. I hate the hypocrisy in politics, and in the media for that matter. You just have to read through any single issue of Private Eye to have an inkling of the double-standards and the deeds carried out through greed, vanity and ambition that go on behind the scenes.

I have long admired Charles Kennedy — I voted for him while I was living in Inverness, before the parliamentary boundaries had been moved. I applauded that the LibDems secured so many more seats this past General Election. I just hope that the LibDems haven’t shot themselves in the foot (or head!) on this one, because I do think that they could be the real alternative party.

We should pray for Charles Kennedy, for his family, for any others who are struggling with substance addictions, and for British politics in general.