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Crookedshore Has Moved

If you’ve found your way here, you may be interested to know that crookedshore has moved to a new site, HERE, designed by the inestimable Phil Harrison.

So, if you would reset your feeds and links, I’d appreciate it. Thanks


image from here

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

I’ve enjoyed David Mitchel’s previous novels, including trying to spot the linkages between them. This though, is a standalone novel, albeit involving Japan again, round the turn of the 19th century. It’s based mainly on a Dutch held trading post on an artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki in a period of history when Japan is fanatically isolated from the outside world and determined to keep it that way.

The writing is beautiful, particularly one description of Nagasaki whose prose literally rhymes. Two set pieces stand out remarkably. I’ve rarely read an opening chapter both gripping and repulsive, depicting the birth of a breeched baby. Its counterpart is a later chapter describing another medical procedure, this time (located in the nethers!), the extraction of a kidney stuff. Gross but brilliant. And the whole novel is magnificently researched and enlightening. One other set-piece was also incredible, the attack by the British frigate—extraordinary. And the ending chapters are beautiful and lyrical.

So why didn’t I absolutely love it? I never quite believed the tangled love story—it just seemed to emerge as a plot device rather than integral to the story. The description of the female lead characters attempted escape from imprisonment had me laughing out loud at the contrived nature of how the plot was revealed. And the samurai attack on the monastery just seemed to fade out.

Mitchell is a terrific, creative, imaginative novelist and this has its peaks but also its troughs. Not as thrilling as Cloud Atlas or Ghostwritten.

Bill Hybels & the Rogue Wave

I haven’t been living under rock for the last 15 years or so, but though I am aware of Bill Hybels, I have never knowingly read anything by him nor heard him speak. I’m aware, of course, of Willow Creek, and aware that by some measures of the thing the model of church there has been a success. Success enough for thousands of congregations wanting to follow the same model.

So I had the chance of hearing a dvd of his address to a huge crowd of leaders at what I now understand to be a global event called the Leadership Summit. He’s a capable communicator, passionate and driven. The title of his address was ‘A Rogue Wave’ (or something similar), and I got to hear 40 mins out of a 75 minute talk.

Here’s my tuppence worth.

In 40 minutes he never once engaged with the bible, other than to mention a verse which happened to contain a word that corresponded to something he was talking about. It was an illustrative use rather than an engagement with the text. I understand that the leadership summit does not cater exclusively for church people, but many ‘secular’ business leaders also attend. So the omission may be OK, but I thought it was strange.

But what really interested me was his comment that the economic downturn was similar to a rogue wave, which is an unpredicted occurrence in the deep ocean which causes devastating effects.

It’s the idea that this recession was unpredicted and ‘rogue’. Really Mr Hybels? It was certainly predicted in Ireland, and the prophets who got it right are making a fortune in book sales and on the rubber chicken circuit. Was there no-one in the US who had foresight? And if not, why not?

Because even if the business media missed it, or buried its collective head in the sand, the one place that should have seen this coming was the Church. The frenzy of easy debt and overconsumption and the increasing marginalization of the poor is repeatedly condemned by the Old Testament prophets. And the story of the foolish farmer as told by Jesus also warns of the folly of building a business or an economy on the basis of assumed future incomes.

The fact that we missed this occurrence says more about our failures as a prophetic community. Was this rogue because we were so enmeshed with the wider culture that we were all blinded, even to the warnings of the Scriptures?

And one more thing. By calling this a rogue and absolving ourselves from blame, are we tacitly giving ourselves permission to behave the same way once the recession lifts?

Who’s Leading Public Debate?

The media (admittedly a multifaceted beast) has also played a role in narrowing public discourse, to the extent that fundamental questions, like, “what should you do with your short time on earth?” or “how can you really be happy?”, are virtually never discussed. This is all the more serious because the Catholic Church, which might once have generated debate on these issues, has made itself irrelevant (through self-inflicted wounds) and there is no other institution which can readily substitute.

Worse still, the place once occupied by priests and philosophers in the public sphere is now almost entirely populated by technocratic or managerial know-it-alls. It is more than a year since novelist Colman Toibin first called for economists to be banned from the airwaves and, without wanting to be flippant, heeding his request might be one step towards rediscovering our sense of humanity.

From today’s Irish Times in a piece by Joe Humphreys on the impact of the recession on mental health.

William Stringfellow on the City

In this culture it is literally impossible to flee from the city’s dominance..–as all those White suburbanites have discovered–and, in my belief, the city is the central theological symbol of society. This is not only the contemporary reality in America, it is the biblical insight as well. Biblically, the city is the scene of both doomsday and salvation. There is Babylon, but there is also Jerusalem. The city is the epitome of the Fall, yet the city is the sign of the Eschaton. These connotations of death and life associated with the city empirically and theologically mean that the city cannot be escaped and that the city must not be rejected by human beings, as it seems to be by the utopian hippies and their commune movement, for example, and least of all can it be repudiated by professed Christians. (Billy Graham, if he were more attentive to the Bible, might realise this and cease his facile preaching against the city as a realm of sin and give up his proclamation of a pastoral image of salvation generally identified with the hinterland of the American South or Midwest).

BBC Radio Ulster Broadcast Service

I was delighted to be able to do the Broadcast Service from the studio in BBC Radio Ulster.

The theme I chose was Biblical Wisdom for Surviving in an Economic Downturn. I’ll post up some of the material in due course, but if anyone is interested, BBC Radio Ulster Listen Again facility is streaming it for the next 7 days HERE.

If you’re interested in any of the music used, let me know in the comments.

Skainos Video

This is the video commissioned and used by the Special EU Funding Body (SEUPB) as part of their recent Peace III conference. They chose Skainos to be one of the key projects highlighted and we were very pleased to participate. I think they did a nice job. The conference was held on 20 May last.

City Futures – Developer Heaven

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations, you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah 58:12

I’m essentially a property developer. I, and my colleagues here at Skainos and EBM.

That’s a confession not likely to make you any friends in Ireland in 2010 and it’s something I only really realised today. A number of things came together.

I walked around Hosford House in the company of a demolition team, who will return on Monday to begin taking down the hostel.

Earlier in the day, I walked into the former Skyline warehouse (block 1 below, outlined in violet) where contractors have been busy for about 4 weeks transforming it into our new furniture warehouse and cafe. It looks great – bright, fresh and clean and ready to open next Tuesday. The newly branded cafe, Re:Fresh, will sell some of the healthiest and cheapest food on the whole of the Newtownards Road, and the new furniture warehouse will continue the work of Re:Store, which has been such a key element of the social economy strategy of EBM.

As we walked out of the store, we noted that contractors had also finished work on repaving the section of the street outside the premises. And the signmakers were finishing erecting the signs for the cafe and furniture store.

Back in the office I looked out my window and realised that the long held vision for Skainos was already being realised. We’ve always aspired to seeing the Skainos Project making a significant contribution to the regeneration of the community – socially, economically, physically, environmentally and  spiritually.

Though the main construction project hasn’t begun yet, already the impact is being seen. By Tuesday the main site (block 2, outlined in yellow below) will be completely vacated ready for the contractor to take possession. By Tuesday, the former disused Skyline warehouse on the adjacent block (block 1) will be back in productive use, employing several people and contributing to the economic life of the area. The office building I’m in has been remodelled by us and the two units next door have been purchased by a private sector developer (block 3, outlined in blue below) . The next block up has had its frontage renewed. And all round the DSD have renewed the paving and kerbing.

The Newtownards Road is changing, and our faith-based, community focused agency is leading the way in our part of it.

The verse from Isaiah up above has been a significant one for me in the last number of years. It is a poetic passage which describes one dimension of the reputation of the people of God.

Now I’ve heard countless sermons pondering what it means for the people of God to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation etc. a more familiar description (1 Peter 2:9). Not once have I ever heard anyone promoting this Isaiah verse as one of our coveted names.

We are the rebuilders of ancient ruins and the restorers of streets with dwellings.

It’s at least as valid as the more spiritual, esoteric names. Perhaps more so, because it describes our impact on the places where people actually live and move and have their being. It describes our intolerance of dereliction. Our intention to create livable, walkable cities of human scale. I think I would also want to argue that it is an approach to development that gives the profit motive a rightful place, which is not pre-eminent.

It is an approach to development that is people focused in it’s outcomes and in the bottom line. It’s an understanding of urban development that draws its inspiration from a biblical vision of the city in the Kingdom of God, developer heaven if you like!

[other city futures here]

City Futures – the Maternal City

I’m reading the Old Testament prophets for descriptions of the City and wondering about contemporary analogues. I want to read the prophets, and their visions of the future city, as if they meant us to take these visions seriously in our day, and not relegate them to some far-off imagined future. In this way we are motivated for action to create today little snapshots of what that future might be like.

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.

11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”   (Isaiah 66:10-11)

Here is a call to rejoice in the city , even if previously you have had call to mourn for her. This morning I know some people who are mourning the loss of library services – the ‘necessary’ cutbacks have resulted in a slashing of libraries in communities like Ballymacarrett. Education and youth services are already reduced in an area where educational underachievement is endemic. Not much satisfaction there.

But in this vision of the restored city, mourning turns to rejoicing and dis-ease turns to comfort at the nursing breasts of the mother city.

So, some questions. In what ways does the city function as a nursing mother? How does the mother city satisfy? What would constitute overflowing abundance? How do we make progress towards that?

see here for more City Futures.

Another Generation of Evangelicals and the Old Guard

A friend tweeted a link to this article about a new kind of evangelicalism the other day which I found really interesting. The Q-Gathering.

At first, I confess, I was a little cynical, not another cute, branded,  air-brushed image of straight-white-teeth Christianity? But as I read on I changed my attitude ever so slightly. I’m glad that more and more from this quarter are reflecting on issues of social justice.

Tom Krattenmaker, who wrote the piece, makes the judgment that,

As they keenly sense, a major problem with evangelical Christianity in our time has been its bold assertion that is has an answer — the answer — to everything, namely, a particular understanding of the Bible and how it applies to present-day issues. Not that they are any less on fire for Jesus, but these Q-generation Christians are comfortable in complexity and ambiguity. The new guard seems to be pleading with the elders: “It’s not that simple!”

So the questions being asked are not the traditional ones of how to get to heaven, or deal with abortion or same sex relationship, rather, as Krattenmaker asserts, they are more interested in addressing the hells on earth.

I dropped an email to my friend to thank him for the link, and also to make a comment or two.

Such as to say that this is not new. For years now many of us have been thinking, and writing and working on these things and with this perspective. But we’re old now! And we never had the tech, nor the design skills to brand the movement – some of us weren’t even that cool or trendy even when we were younger. But our sensibilities were right.

And another thing, very few of us who have been doing these things have been welcome within the evangelical mainstream, even though we owe a great deal to the movement. So we’re outsiders who find allies in small networks. Our mentors and heroes are not selling shed loads of books nor headlining international conferences, and they generally have gained an authority for what they say among us by virtue of what they have done.

Anyway, I’m delighted to see that such ideas still percolate within evangelicalism. I hope that the movement, if it can be called that, continues to grow. I hope that it finds space for those who are above 40 and have been round the block a few times. And I hope they don’t yearn too much to be on the ‘inside’.