Kevin Colyer's thoughts and ponderings

Semi-random rambles


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Icon of Transfiguration

Illuminated by eternity’s light
The fullness of the one that the universe could not contain
Revealed in radiant glory one time only
Not hidden away

A cup, tipped up and poured out
Divinity running away like water into dusty ground
Now lifted in this moment out of the shadows of the world
Blazing brilliant energy
True nature impossible to hide for long
Teach me, teacher
Centre me, central one
Irradiate me, brilliant sun

I am thrown down
Reeling, drunken and dazed
I know who you are
I’m overwhelmed by your beauty
I fear to leave my familiar tracks and trails

I look around me and everything has changed
The mountain flows, granite bends and lifts you up
The grunge of daily living bleached and infused with scorching energy
My heroes raised with you
They see you who was horizon far away, now handshake close
It was you all along they strove to see with a longing as deep as life
Yet they were yours all along, hidden in the dark hand, whispered to

Beacon of brilliant light, lasting a day, minute, hour or moment
Never seen, then seen, then gone
To be seen again, in this moment
And endless day to come
No more night

(with thanks to https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/transfiguration-icon-the-event-and-the-process/ for the wonderful image and a great article)


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Staying in: A Strong Britain at the centre of a Strong Europe

Winning the Nobel peace prize was one of my proudest moments. It could have been one of yours too, but you may have missed it. All the citizens of Europe were given a Nobel peace prize. The reason? That the last 50 years since the European Union’s founding through the European Coal and Steel Community have resulted in the single longest period of peace in the last two thousand years of our continents history.

That is quite something.

So it comes as a great deal of sadness that we are having a referendum to consider leaving and joining. I have really no idea what we will vote, but I vote to stay in, to stay right at the centre of Europe and help steer this unique project to a brighter future.

I fear we will vote no. For a variety of reasons. Mostly a confusion of what importance sovereignty should have over our islands, what is in our perceived economic interest and fear of our borders being overrun by refugees. There seems to be a real feeling of insecurity that our way of life will be destroyed should we remain, which strikes me as odd given the potential disruption of departure. I also feel a sense of inevitability as it appears to me that few people in the UK have an understanding of culture of the rest of our continental dwellers, the concerns and common outlook. For most UK citizens history finished when we “won” World War II. Our schools teach nothing at all on the last 70 years west of the former Iron Curtain. We seem to have lost the post-war peace work by Churchill, preferring to keep him to the Downing Street bunkers in the war and forgetting his “Jaw, jaw, jaw, not war, war, war” post-conflict rhetoric.

Our continental history has been littered with the rise and fall of empires, invasions, smaller and larger tussles over land and resources. The Alsace region of France has been at various times over hundreds of years. part of Germany and France

It was in Alsace that the father of Robert Schuman was born. Originally a Frenchman who was became German, and returned to being French when the region was recaptured. Born during a sojourn in Luxembourg, Schuman was a spectator to all this confusion. Schuman eventually became Prime Minister of France twice and held other senior government posts. He was active in creating peace in Europe. And through him one very particular idea came to be.

In Strasbourg, Alsace, in May 1949 he announced the creation of a “supranational association”, the European Coal and Steel Community. This would combine France and Germany’s coal and steel production so deeply that neither could dispute over resources nor use them to produce the weapons of war that were used on each other. He said anticipated “putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace”.

Schuman’s passion was that in “Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalism, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.”

In a treaty in Paris, Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all signed together to create the European Coal and Steel Community. This community would ultimately lead the way to the founding of the European Union.

So right at the centre of this cause for peace we see nation in solidarity with nation, an economic identity forged (and safe-guarded), the potential for a lasting peace from the destruction of nationalism.

This is why the UK must continue to stay within a very human and imperfect union. We need to continue this solidarity. War may be decades away from us today. It touched our grandparents, but has been locked away from us in school books. War really is truly evil. Evil, not just unpleasant. Our recent recession is unpleasant (and evil in its way: ten’s of thousands of people die in recession’s but put alongside the tens of millions slaughtered in the second world war this is evil with a small ‘e’.)

Immigration may be fearful and shake our sensibilities and securities but the carpet bombing, the battlefield and the atom bomb are far worse.

This is why I urge us to continue our solidarity with the European project. Not that war will break out imminently (perhaps with the French – historically it would be accurate to suggest that!) But with the instability in Ukraine, who could truly predict what will happen in the next five years?

I don’t think it will by the way. But union brings many more benefits. The rich cultural diversity in Europe is far more at our finger tips. I lived in Belgium for ten years and it was a constant delight to join in so much shared culture and community amongst the other Europeans I met there or traveled to meet. I have seen the benefit of the union in Portugal, that once was so poor, but has made huge progress and growth forward. You should ask Europeans how they view the benefits of union – it is always an interesting response.

I feel an exit now would be so short-sighted. It panders to an insecure sense of national interest and retreat. Not engagement, solidarity and progress. A stronger Europe will benefit us long-term. And we will benefit Europe bringing the cultural insights, and the strength of our economy and our unique political outlook to the table. For, “Jaw, jaw, jaw”, really is better than the alternative.


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Transfiguration – James

Two streets down from heaven
twenty metres from the treetops
raised up, topping the trees
the son sends a piercing beam

Straight like an arrow
lanceting my head
bursting the hidden putrid mess
cleansing, washing, healing
crowning my head with the glow of unearthly vigor

Radiating down to my hands and feet
That touch the earth, my head turned away
not ready to look into the eyes of mercy
that say come home, to me, to the divine energy
of the Three-in-One


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Inspired by Lorica – One

On my feet, steely eyed
moved by piston power
titanic ice slammed together with unyielding granite
back from the dead energies released
the three, the one, the mystery, the dance
that is the force that surges up my spine

The never flinching gaze
seeing through blackest rot and filth and pain
never missing
never overlooking
a glimmer of redemption, fading light caught in hope

The ever loving gaze
x-raying my marrow and tendons and flesh
delighting in me
joyful always
hoping bright sunshine of kept promises await

No gps signal
no map on a napkin
no flicking compass needle
lost and found with the one
my face kisses the ground
my heart bursts with longing
ecstatic utterances on my tongue
fulfilment of my dreams with such peace
alone with the one and one and one
giddy from the weaving dance

This is the skin I put on
the body I inhabit
to walk in the world that constantly echoes his active spirit
emboldened by thunder
brilliant in with a million headlights glare
pure as honey
switched onto his network forever flowing within the threefold turbulent waters

Explosive one detonate in me


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Missing A Monastic Link?

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Copyright flickr.com 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.