Kevin Colyer's thoughts and ponderings

Semi-random rambles

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I am voting REMAIN tomorrow

So after weeks of the campaigns I am going to the polls tomorrow and I will vote REMAIN.

I am unconvinced by the arguments of Brexit that suggest leaving is sufficient to stem migrancy. I am certain that the legal disentanglement from Europe will take decades and will leave us poorer.  We will still be paying money to enter into the market-place to trade and then we will have no say in what happens there. I am not convinced that being British and standing alone is helpful for us. Isolation is not a great strategy.

I am certainly not on the side of Johnson, Gove, Duncan-Smith and especially Farage. I am hoping that a Remain vote will curtail Farage’s voice. I can’t imagine what future will look like in Britain if we leave as he will grow in importance in our politics. I think there is truth in the saying that the way immigrants are treated is how government would treat everyone if they could get away with it. I don’t want that future.

Instead I will vote along with the hundreds of historians, hundreds of economists and the vast group of people who want to be associated with the European project. It is not perfect but has brought peace and prosperity to a continent broken after two World Wars and thousands of years of feuding and strife. There has never been anything like the European Union. I value standing in solidarity with others than being in isolation. Being a part of the EU is good for all the other members, not just for us. It costs us peanuts compared to our ongoing costs for health, welfare and defense and arguably has lowered our defence budget much more than the millions we send each week.

Having live outside of the UK for 10 years I have seen much of Europe. I have visited the EU buildings, interacted with MEP’s and many of the people who work there. I have seen first hand the changes in many parts of Europe that membership has made to the many regions that have been poor and underdeveloped. I have seen the pride and engagement of many Eastern Europeans who have a future of safety and freedom from oppression in the EU. Many of these nations were under Soviet control as I grew up.

In sight of the EU parliament building in Brussels there is a small sliver of graffiti covered Berlin wall; standing next to it I feel relieved and thrilled that it no longer exists and the threat it implied of war and the symbol of division it embodied is no more.

I am proud of my Nobel Peace prize that I share with all European Union citizens. I don’t want to let my share slip from my hands.

Vote REMAIN with me tomorrow.


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Missing A Monastic Link?


Copyright user Ian Brittan CC-BY-NC

A video news item from the BBC caught my eye this morning. It is a review of the first year of the new monastic experiment for 20-35’s of the St Anselm community initiated and hosted by Archbishop Justin Welby in Lambeth Palace.

As I watched the video I was reminded quite strongly of the period I was working with Youth With A Mission, England running one year-long programmes of discipleship and evangelism, called Operation Year (Op Year for short). We wore less robes and waved our hands in the air more in worship but that was the only major difference I could see in this short piece by the BBC and my experience: the similarities were overwhelming.

Similarities and differences

Starting off with that which is very similar.

  • Op Year was for 18-35 year olds.
  • Mixture of genders and nationalities
  • Lasted one year (!)
  • Mixture of training, spiritual development, prayer and outreach work
  • Residential
  • Ecumenical (if I understand the t’s & c’s correctly)
  • a Sodal community – not a rooted local church (see here)
  • The Archbishop (he has initiated St Anselm’s community and is also the Patron of Youth With A Mission, England
  • Benefits – both years lead people more deeply rooted in their faith, with a deeper knowledge of who they are, skills for life and ministry and a deeper compassion.

The community of St Anselm is of course different and not the same thing and what immediately springs to mind are:

  • Intent – Op Year is run by a missionary organisation and has stronger evangelisation goals.  St Anselm seeks to be a monastic community
  • Rule of life – St Anselm has a clearly defined rule of life and a stronger rhythm of prayer
  • Philosophy of discipleship – this requires a deeper look but I would expect the formation to be more reflective and gently guided. YWAM’s style is more provocative and drives change through passionate inspiration and challenges change and growth. (I believe both approaches equally valid)
  • Somewhat cheaper – no cost is mentioned for St Anselm. Op Year charges for board, accommodation and tuition for a year.
  • St Anselm is heading into a second year and as far as I know there are no Op Years running.

There are more differences I am certain and I am writing this with scant true knowledge of St Anselm’s (please forgive!) I have recently moved from Youth With A Mission where I had extensive Op Year experience over the years and I am currently an Anglican Ordinand studying for Pioneer ministry.

I am intrigued about the new monastic movement from which I assume that St Anselm’s is drawing inspiration from. I would be very interested in comparing and contrasting and reflecting much more deeply on the tension between the two programmes. I would not have wished to identify with a monastic experience when I was a member and a leader of Op Years, but now I am not too sure if it was not more closely aligned than I could have imagined. I wonder what I will learn as I dig deeper?

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Reflection on Street Evangelism

Recently I invented the Introduction Game to help the young people I work with build confidence initiating conversations with new people. I wanted to help them improve their skills in sharing the gospel. To play it you approach one or more people and start a conversation during which you need to mention five things:

  1. The weather;
  2. Find out where they are from;
  3. Find out some interesting fact;
  4. Tell them your name;
  5. Tell them the rules of the Introduction Game.

We played it a few times during Autumn evenings in Reading. We met with remarkable success and had many long and enjoyable discussions. Some overflowed into spiritual conversations and prayer! We talked to a group of Indians, two Spanish women, a Bangladeshi man, two Italian women, two English men, a Danish man, a Scottish women (the chattiest by a long margin) and a drunken English couple who actually initiated conversation with us!

I have been reading the delightful Watching the English by Kate Fox, an anthropological approach to English culture. The more I have read the more I have reflected upon my experiences of evangelism right back to the earliest moments, when as a new Christian, at sixteen, I trembled with fear and struggled to even hand out a leaflet.

Fox explains many of the baffling cultural customs we English hold dear and using an anthropological approach, helpfully exposes them (such as Weather Talk, p 36 – a form of social grooming), the rules (Humour Rules, p 78 – the vital importance of quick wit and humour to bridge awkward or unknown situations) and taboos (Money-talk Taboo, p 559). She also explains Cultural Remissions, p 132, places, situations or times where the rules are laid aside and the English can be temporarily free from certain rules. Her central thesis is that Englishness has a core set of rules rooted in a fundamental Social Dis-ease, p 560. That is, that deep down the English find relating to others difficult, stressful; preferring privacy and intimacy with a chosen few family or close friends. The privacy of the home (Moat and Drawbridge Rule, p 185) and the strange extension of this into public as we walk and travel ( Rules of the Road, p 215) hiding behind phones, books, newspapers and a strict code of silence.

When contrasting these rules with my experience playing the Introduction Game one thing become obvious. I hardly talked to any English people! The easiest people to speak to, by a long margin, were from other cultures. The English people found our approach embarrassing, despite the humour of my approach, and all the Weather Talk. The exception was the drunken couple, who found their solution to the Social Dis-ease in alcohol (p 379).

Where does this leave evangelism then? I am primarily considering the proclamation sense of evangelism (the herald sense of the word) and the example of Jesus’ and the Apostles in the Gospels and Acts. They took their message directly out to people, not just to the people who came to hear them. Contemporary English culture and Middle Eastern culture around 30-50AD are fundamentally different. There few places in England where it is culturally appropriate to stand and preach to strangers, one such is Speakers’ Corner in the northeast corner of Hyde Park. A small zone of cultural inversion exists there. I feel certain there is a role for the public pronouncement of the message, however, I think English culture requires a radically different approach to the methods used in the New Testament.

I have always tried to use people sensitive evangelism (The best book I have found is Sowing, Reaping, Keeping by Laurence Singlehurst), yet I realise I need to reflect afresh and more deeply on English culture. Avoiding public proclamation altogether would be a dereliction of duty. Proclaiming the Gospel to the English has twin problems. It is challenging in nature as the message demands attention due to its importance and origin (at one end) and a radical life changes (at the other). Yet the Importance of not being Earnest rule, p 79
prohibits taking ourselves too seriously.

So what might work?

How could we make opportunity for Cultural Remission? We could create public spaces where people can come to talk about spiritual things. We should avoid intruding into the invisible private zones the English carry around them when travelling (i.e. not preaching on trains, or using PA equipment to yell a message at people). We should use humour extensively to mock the human situation, self-mockery and avoiding taking ourselves to seriously or forcing others to be serious.

I imagine a drawing a box on the floor with eye-catching tape demarcating a God-Zone where people can come to talk about spiritual things. Or holding two-way conversations – perhaps a chalk debating zone on the pavement. Or a Fishbowl conversations on a serious topic. The Internet Exception to privacy rules offers us fresh options perhaps (p 64).

We need to make the whole process of proclamation evangelism easier for those doing it. Most Christians find it culturally terrifying and feel conflicted between culture and commitment to Christ. And not just in public, but in private evangelism too.

Religion is hard for English people to talk about. Our social dis-ease is crippling almost all the time anyway. I see more clearly the need to understand my culture well and re-imagine the proclamation of Christ’s message creatively working with our cultural strengths, rather than clashing against them; imagining new spaces for fruitful Cultural Remission.

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Puppet sketches for helping kids remember bible verses (but really just mucking about!)

I was working on a week long kids summer holiday Christian club (for those coming across the pond you may know it as a Vacation Bible School or VBS.) There were several churches working together in Brussels and about 120 children (5-11) PLUS about 20 in the crèche and 37 teenage helpers! It was somewhat hectic.

During the week we wanted to use puppets as we needed to introduce and test the memorisation of a simple Bible verse. So each day I sat down with my kids, worked out some ideas and wrote the following sketches which were then performed excellently by 14 year old Sarah (not my kid) and 13 year old Sam (my kid!). The VBS was made by Group and was the SKY VBS. I recommend it. The verse tested each day comes from the VBS schedule, but it should be straight forward to adapt or change.

If you want to know how it went down and a little of the flavour of the sketches then the following YouTube clip should help!

 (Search to 2 mins 50 for the unmissable part!)

I enjoyed the process so much I thought I would share the sketches. I had not seen the puppets until a day before the VBS and although I did Google for some sketches whilst planning the VBS but found nothing that inspired me. Once I had seen the puppets it was easier to match a character to the puppets and to write for them. I hope this inspires you. I was easier than I expected – I am sure you can write some good sketches too.

The sketches are in Open Document format and in PDF too.

Day 1: Script day 1 pdf: Script day 1

Day 2: Script day 2 pdf: Script day 2

Day 3: Script day 3 pdf:Script day 3

Day 4: Script day 4 pdf:Script day 4

Day 5: Script day 5 pdf:Script day 5

Extra (Sunday Special!) Script Sunday Extra pdf:Script Sunday Extra

You are free to use and adapt these sketches and freely publish them in accordance with Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0

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A prayer for defrosting the fridge

I have been deeply inspired by the spirituality of the primitive Celtic church because of the holistic fashion that prayer and daily life intermingled. I remember reading a prayer when milking a cow! Yesterday I was doing my share of the house cleaning and whilst defrosting the fridge I pondered whether I could likewise consider it a spiritual moment – indistinguishable from a devotional time!

Today I penned a little prayer based on this:

I prepare a space
free from freezing slabs of inconvenient ice
I let your warmth penetrate
the deepest secret places of my heart
I wipe away the invisible poisons;
I gather the mouldering crumbs;
I scrub the stains;
confident that your sacrifice is unlimited in effect.

Come fill,
Come nourish,
Come wrap around me,
Before and behind me,
Lord Jesus

I hope you find some meaning in it!